Greener Package Award

Marks & Spencer Retail Leadership Award


Marks and Spencer is a UK retailer with International presence. Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, M&S has over 600 stores in the UK, ranging from small high street stores to out of town shopping centres. A growing company with an additional 285 International stores in Europe and the Far East, M&S prides itself on its brand values of Quality, Value, Service, Innovation, and Trust. Being responsible and caring and for the environment is nothing new for M&S, who has always had a leadership position in this arena. M&S can demonstrate that they have considered the impact of packaging for decades:

- We substantially reduced the use of cardboard boxes by inventing the returnable tray over 40 years ago saving in excess of 20,000 tonnes of transit packaging per annum. The returnable tray was expanded into Flowers and Plants 10 years ago saving an additional 5,000 tonnes of cardboard per annum. These savings can be put into context of foods primary packaging use, which in spite of adverse press publicity in recent years, it is the smallest amongst major UK retailers using less than 80,000 tonnes per annum.

- In 2001 a strategic decision was taken to remove PVC from all food packaging. This was in response to growing concern on the environmental effects of the creation and disposal of this particular plastic type. In addition, by using one less plastic type, M&S took the first step to help local authorities to recycle other plastics at kerbside. The removal of PVC from the food portfolio was a costly exercise and technically challenging at the time. However, the work was completed within 18 months, and no other retailer has been able to match this task - even 8 years on. Packaging Sustainability is part of an encompassing agenda for the environment which was encapsulated as 'Plan A' two years ago. Packaging is just one aspect of the Plan A wider vision, a 100 point plan taking in aspects of waste, health, sustainable sources and partnerships. M&S demonstrates real leadership in the environmental arena by not only considering its own direct impact but also helping its supply chain to consider their own. Our packaging commitments are as follows:

- 25% packaging reduction by 2012

- increased use of sustainable materials

- 100% use of compostable or recyclable materials

- clear on pack messaging for customer guidelines on packaging disposal

We use an independent auditing company to ensure that all our declared achievements are accurate and true, creating a platform of trust with customers and other groups. The auditing process takes weeks to prepare for and several days to complete - a really strong and transparent process that remains at the heart of our thinking and sets a standard that others can aspire to. In addition to packaging reduction activity, M&S has pioneered many of the sustainable materials that others now utilise. It is important to set the standard for these developments and as a truly responsible retailer, we believe they should be accessible for all. We have a robust strategy to increase the use of sustainable materials, which include developing accreditation systems and ensuring all materials are food safe.

- When M&S was considering which Forestry scheme to use for sustainable virgin board, we carried out a comprehensive comparison exercise of all the schemes available that entailed visiting Forestry plantations to understand exactly what the accreditation schemes had to offer. As such, a strategic decision was taken to only use one scheme and for this scheme's logo to feature on primary pack.

- Compostable materials are an emerging market, which are proving to be innovative and interesting to the food retail sector. That said, they have many limitations including technical functionality as well as the messaging behind them and, as a result, they still play a very small part in the overall packaging portfolio. However, we still strongly believe in supporting this materials and we do so by:

- working with the materials in terms of technical applications whilst ensuring that food safety remains number one priority. Therefore, how the materials behave in terms of sealing characteristics, as an example, will dictate how and when the materials are used

- driving clarity of messaging in these materials.

Terms such as biodegradation, degradable, compostable, industrially compostable, home compostable and oxy-degradable confuse the customer and can impact on how the materials are disposed of. As such, we have set clear direction by striving for home compostable materials only, a message clearly understood by our customers. A standard has been set, which in the absence of an international standard means that we subscribe to the Composting Association standard. As a result, some materials will not be used by M&S but we believe it is the right thing to do for our customers as well as the environment.

- The debate over plastic use is an important one and M&S has done a great deal to communicate the benefits of plastics as well as other material types. It was important to include a sustainable message in plastics, so we worked with strategic partners to establish a food safe post consumer waste content for thermoformed plastics - starting with PET bottles and trays and finally HDPE milk bottles. We are the only retailer to have a declared post consumer waste content on all milk lines.

- M&S has full traceability of raw materials and ensures that all plastics with recycled content use materials from a post consumer waste stream that has been through a food safe processing route. This is clearly laid out in a code of practice, which goes beyond current legislation for materials of these types. More recently, M&S has developed and launched with a key partner, the world's first plastic film with recycled content. This is now commercially available and accessible to all.

- We recognise the importance of creating waste streams to fulfil our desire to use recycled material in packaging. As such we created an office-recycling scheme, piloted in London, which allows small businesses to return packaging through a route where plastic bottles will be used for post consumer waste recycled content. This scheme is currently being rolled out to other major cities.

- M&S also takes a leading position by working with government, local government, non-government organisations and industry to establish strategic direction for recycling in the UK. As a result of initial conversations driven by M&S, an organisation called PRAG was created. This consisted of major retailers, government, local government, packaging industry, food industry, branded industry, collection and recycling industries and non-government organisations. This group has understood today's challenges and has started to work collaboratively to solve them. Communication is clearly an important aspect of today's environmental challenges. M&S takes the lead by not only communicating to customer through the pack but also through easily understood website information. Our on pack recycling logos have been nationally agreed as best practice. M&S worked with WRAP to create the scheme and is the first retailer to ensure that recycling logos are on 90% of our food packaging portfolio where space limitations allow.

Our communication with non-government organisations and industry is immensely important. We are members of a number of expert organisations, including INCPEN, WRAP and the Compost Association, all of which we use to shape our strategic thinking. We communicate the benefits of packaging to the national media, having invited many of the newspapers into our Head Office. We work with our supply base, both food suppliers and packaging suppliers, to create packaging that delights our customers and that is underpinned by our Plan A credentials. With Embedded Carbon being the latest topic of discussion, we have already spent over a year assessing how this important topic should fit within our packaging strategy. Due to its complexity and lack of customer understanding, we will ensure that any change in strategy is clearly and simply communicated. As we believe responsible retail and the learnings we have should be shared amongst others, we have expanded our communication plan and have recently joined the sustainable packaging coalition in the US to exchange experiences and learnings for the benefit of all. M&S take the environment seriously and it has been recognised through many awards, including retailer of the year 2008 voted by the readers of Packaging News. Our key progress headlines are:

- 12% packaging reduction to date. Some of our stories can be found in: waste/packaging

- 72% of all PET used contains a food safe PCW recycled content

- 38% use of FSC board and rising

- All HDPE milk bottles contain PCW recycled content

- Driving force to create a collection for tetra packs in the UK.

In summary, Marks and Spencer has led the way amongst all retailers by not only considering the impact of our business on the environment but also by developing new technologies and processes for others to access. Responsible retailing lies at the heart of our business plan.

Judge's Comments
M&S was working on environmental issues well before most retailers and has correctly claimed to have led the way to the development of many of the packaging innovations others now use. They have done this in a collaborative and scientifically sound fashion, and as such continue to think carefully about taking actions without a full understanding of the consequences. Their position on home composting is a good example. In light of their longstanding, scientifically based work in this area and collaborative approach, I believe M&S should win the inaugural award in this category.

Categories: Greener Package Award Winner General Packaging Facility/Process