M&S Plan A pledge could slow down retailer

Marks & Spencer’s extension of its Plan A sustainability commitments is set to save the company millions of pounds but could have major implications for its supply chain.

While retail analysts broadly welcome the initiative, they question whether the strict commitments will make the retailer less nimble and put more pressure on its suppliers.

M&S aims to be “the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015” and has launched a raft of new ethical and environmental commitments to achieve it.

For example, all 36,000 M&S product lines will carry at least one sustainable or ethical quality, such as being Fairtrade or organic.

Observers say the plans could prove extremely challenging, as could achieving full traceability of all supplier raw materials.

Verdict senior retail analyst Sarah Peters says: “M&S is relying on its sourcing and suppliers, a lot of which are on the other side of the world, making it difficult to keep track of them. There is a risk that M&S could be slowed down by having to put all these [sustainability] procedures in place.”

However, M&S head of sustainable business Mike Barry says there have been no such problems to date. He adds that it is likely that Plan A will become more consumer-facing and of more help to brand perception, as so far only 15% of the 100 commitments have offered good stories to tell to the consumer.

Steve Kelsey, sustainability expert and strategic innovations director at Pi Global, questions the approach and says, “From a brand perspective, M&S could be over-associating itself with sustainability. Does it make sense from a long-term brand perspective to associate with something that has no differentiation – everyone is ’doing’ sustainability?”

However, brands such as Coca-Cola believe consumers want to hear about their sustainable initiatives.
So far, M&S has met 46 of its original 100 commitments, announced in January 2007.

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