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Stuart Rose

28 September 2007
Stuart Rose

Stuart Rose is Chief Executive of Marks & Spencer, one of ten corporate partners in Together, a campaign to provide consumers with compelling products and services that make it easier to reduce their {CO2} emissions.

Marks & Spencer is a partner in Together - what is the motivation for acting in partnership with others on the climate issue?

It's clear that the problem of climate change is far too big to tackle alone. We all - business, consumers, government - need to take action together. If we do this, I believe we can make a big difference.

In January 2007, we launched Plan A - a £200m, five-year, 100 point eco-plan which addresses five key themes and touches every part of our business. As part of our plan, we aim to become carbon neutral by becoming 25% more energy efficient, using green electricity and only offsetting as a last resort. But because we face other issues, we have also committed to send no waste to landfill from our own operations; extend our sustainable sourcing; set new standards in ethical trading; and help customers and staff live a healthier lifestyle.

Plan A will see us take action across 35,000 product lines, involving over 2,000 factories, 10,000 farms and 250,000 workers, as well as engaging our 75,000 employees and the 16 million people who visit our stores each week.

Such is the scale of Plan A that we can't deliver on it unless it is completely integrated into our business and we continue to work closely with our employees, suppliers and customers as well as independent experts, such as The °Climate Group.

How important is encouraging your customers to take individual action?

We're clear that we need our customers to be involved in Plan A too. And we're doing everything we can to persuade them to support us.

Here, we face two challenges: persuading them that we can all make a difference - as individuals and by working together; and making 'green' the easy, and if possible, the value for money option.

In part, this involves ensuring our customers can trust us to do some of the hard work for them: by offering eco-friendly products, Fairtrade products, sustainable products and healthy products, in energy efficient store environments.

To make it easy for customers to do their bit, we are, as part of the Together campaign, re-labelling around 70% of our clothing ranges to encourage customers to 'Think Climate' by lowering wash temperatures to 30°C. It's a simple and economical action and is better for the environment - saving around 40% of energy compared to washing at 30°C. In fact, the Energy Savings Trust has calculated that, in the UK, if we all move to washing at 30°C it would be the same as taking 300,000 cars off the road each year.

In addition, we are supporting the Women's Institute's Carbon Challenge - a campaign to encourage WI members and M&S customers to reduce their carbon emissions by 20% over the course of the year. They can measure their carbon footprint using a version of WWF's 'Footprint Calculator' and receive tailored tips to help them reduce their impact on the environment.

Is there scope to develop more climate friendly products and services in the future - if so, what are the key areas to look at?

We know we all need to cut emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

When it comes to customer use and disposal of products, the largest proportion of {CO2} emissions comes from the washing of clothes. Our research has shown that over the lifetime of a t-shirt, washing can account for three quarters of its carbon footprint. As the largest clothing retailer in the UK, we believe that encouraging our customers to make a small change by lowering their wash temperatures to 30°C could make a very big difference.  

Our new eco-home products can also help customers to cut their energy consumption. The range consists of a kettle which uses 30% less energy than a conventional model, energy saving light bulbs and a plug that only supplies power to your PC and desktop equipment when the items are in use. These are all easy-to-use products that make going 'green' that little bit simpler.

As I mentioned earlier, climate change is far too big for us to tackle alone. I also know we do not yet have all the answers yet and that some of the new innovations we trial as part of Plan A will not get off the ground. But mankind is ingenious and inventive - new technologies and solutions are being developed all the time. With these fresh ideas and support from our customers, suppliers and employees, I know that, within five years, we will get there.

What is being done to reduce emissions in your stores and supply chain?

While customer use represents 30% of M&S' total footprint, our operations represent 70% and we're committed to taking action here as well.

As part of Plan A, we aim to make our operations in the UK and Ireland - our stores, offices and warehouses - carbon neutral by 2012. We are also looking at ways we can improve our transportation methods. We recently introduced a more energy efficient trailer for our lorries, whose teardrop shape reduces {CO2} emissions by 20%, when compared to a standard cab-trailer fleet operation. We've ordered 140 of the trailers and will continue to look for similar innovative transportation solutions over the coming years.

We also want to help our 2,000 suppliers across the globe to reduce their carbon footprints. Many are at the forefront of new technologies - developing innovative, industry-leading solutions like building carbon neutral 'eco-factories' in Wales and Sri Lanka or recycling plastic bottles into polyester fleeces, trousers or school-wear. We are giving them our expertise in areas like sustainable construction or energy reduction. What we learn from these initiatives and our other Plan A work, will be shared with our suppliers through our new Supplier Exchange website.

Is responsible consumerism going to be a key driving force in tackling climate change?

Yes, I believe so. Over the last 12 months, we have seen a real shift in customers' priorities and expectations. We know that ethical and environmental considerations increasingly influence their purchasing decisions. A YouGov survey we carried out earlier this year showed that 73% of people have changed the way they behave in the last 12 months in response to concerns about the environment. They expect us to do more to protect our planet for the future, but many also want to reduce their own environmental impact as well.

I believe that if you don't address this change in priorities now, you will lose customers' trust and that can only be bad for your sales and bad for your brand in future.

That said, everyone has a part to play and there's obviously a key role for Governments too.

There is currently a lot of marketing around different social and environmental issues - how can retailers be most helpful in encouraging consumers to make positive choices?

Retailers can play a vital role in helping customers to make positive choices. At M&S, we have introduced a number of simple solutions so that with little effort, we all can make a big difference. For example, as I've said, we are encouraging our customers to lower the temperature they wash their clothes at to 30°C, reduce the number of carrier bags they use and regularly recycle their coat hangers.

We believe our work with other organisations such as the WI and the Together campaign partners will help us to reach even more people to show them that change can indeed be easy, simple and effective.

Looking forward, do you believe that communicating with consumers on issues like climate change is critical for business success?

Customers tell us that this is what they want M&S to do. A couple of years ago they told us they wanted to know more about the background to our products - in response, we ran our 'Look behind the Label' campaign. Subsequently, they told us they wanted to understand the bigger picture and that they expected M&S to take a lead on issues like climate change and waste. Because we believe in giving our customers what they want, and in keeping at least half a step ahead of them as we do so, we responded with Plan A. We also believe it's the commercially astute thing to do. As customers share our concerns, Plan A might also give them another reason to shop at M&S.

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