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LONDON: British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) plans to transport 70 percent of international general merchandise products directly to retail destinations by the end of 2015/16 rather than via the UK.

This is one aspect of its latest 'Plan A' report that began as a technical initiative in 2007 and is now, as 'Plan A 2020', the basis of its business plan focused on customer, employee and supplier engagement says director Mike Berry.

"If there is one overarching lesson we draw from the first seven years of Plan A, it's one of humility. We won't change the world alone; in fact we can't even change our own business alone. Whether it's sending a consistent message on sustainability to globalcat commodity producers or ensuring consumers are offered a sustainable approach to consumption across the marketplace, normalising it as the default way to buy, we know that the importance of partnership is growing," he explains.

M&S launched Plan A in 2007 to reduce its social and environmental footprint. In 2010 it began to identify the necessary business case. In 2013 it reported savings of £135 million to re-invest. This year it has increased that number by seven percent to £145 million.

With 33.6 million UK customers (over half the population), nearly 86,000 employees and 3,000 suppliers worldwide, the company says Plan A 2020 is designed to engage with these groups through inspiration, being in touch, integrity and innovation.

Berry explains: "We need our employees and people working in our supply chains to see Plan A not as a matter of compliance but as a way of working that delivers social, environmental and economic benefit. You don't need a standard to tell you do it – it's simply good business practice, a modern way of working."

As part of this process by 2016 M&S will have identified the commercial viability of re-using potential waste materials across its business and begin encouraging policymakers to transition towards a sustainable circular economy: "We believe that the ability to source, control and recover finite and ever more costly resources is becoming a powerful source of competitive advantage and new approaches built around the circular use of resources and radical de-materialisation are required," adds Berry.

By the end of next year M&S will also publish a report identifying the carbon impact of its end-to-end logistics footprint: "To our knowledge, we're the first major retailer to measure and model the carbon footprint of its entire logistics supply chain in detail from supplier to store. Once completed, this project will greatly improve our understanding of where carbon emissions are generated in the supply chain, help us monitor the impact of our actions and estimate how changes to our network will affect total emissions. We'll use the results of this exercise to help us develop the next generation of Plan A targets," Berry says.

M&S works with an external advisory board that includes Marc Goldring, CEO Oxfam GB; Gail Klintworth, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever; Peggy Liu, Chair of Joint US–China Collaboration on Clean Energy; David Nussbaum, CEO WWF UK; and Jonathon Porritt, head of Forum for the Future, who comments:

"From my perspective, more than 50 years since 'the environment' first became a matter of public concern, it can get really depressing hearing about consumers still being confused about what sustainability means. Or still uncertain whether or not what they do, as individuals, actually makes a difference.

"What's more, many consumers remain very sceptical about the 'sincerity of intent' with which companies are playing their part in creating a more sustainable world.... M&S has a phenomenal opportunity to use Plan A to inspire, empower and enable its millions of consumers to take their own sustainability journey to the next stage."

This year M&S completed a training programme begun in 2010 for 506,000 people in its general merchandise supply chain covering employment responsibilities and rights, basic healthcare, numeracy and literacy. Other Plan A highlights in the past 12 months include a £250,000 donation to UNICEF and £14.2 million invested in local communities.

More information on M&S and logistics in the latest issue of Freightweek magazine.

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