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M&S products demonstrate sustainability with innovation
Sustainability Outlook spoke to Jyotsna Belliappa, Head of Social Compliance at Marks and Spencer, South Asia, about the growing demand for sustainable consumption and the ways in which fashion retailers can apply sustainability in product innovations
Based on your experience with the retail industry in India, what would you say are the major sustainability related challenges for the sector?
It is only recently that large format organized retail is coming of age in India. This key sustainability imperatives that need to be considered are carbon and water footprints of the products being sourced globally, the infrastructure of the buildings/ malls housing these retail formats, the energy consumption and the proper disposal of waste generated.
Every organization has its unique definition of sustainability. What would you say is the driver for sustainable practices for Marks and Spencer?
Sustainability is how we do business. Plan A is our sustainability program which revolves around 180 sustainability commitments covering almost every aspect of our business. One of the primary drivers for Plan A is our customers who expect Marks & Spencer to always do the right thing- for them, for the environment, for the business and for this world.
Could you share something more about the Plan A program in India? How successful has it been?
Plan A is has been operational in India since 2007. India is one of the 6 countries which are part of the South Asia Regional office for Marks & Spencer. We have 2 LEED certified stores in India – one in Bangalore and one in Delhi. There are 24 green factories producing for M&S in South Asia (4 in India, 4 in Bangladesh and 16 in Sri Lanka). The sustainable practices in these factories have enabled reduction of energy consumption by 30% and water consumption by about 50% in some critical operations. Approximately 36% of all what we source from the South Asia region has 1 or 2 sustainability attributes.
When the Plan A was launched, Sir Stuart Rose reportedly said that M&S did this because the customers wanted it. Do you see a sustainable shopping culture emerging anytime soon in India?
Marks & Spencer is one of the pioneers in sustainability with more than 100 recognitions and awards for their sustainable approach to business. The regular customers of Marks & Spencer India are well travelled and have a good view of the world events and expect Marks & Spencer to be a leader in sustainability business in India as in the world. We are currently developing our communication strategy about our Plan A sustainability program in India which will go a long way in increasing the brand recognition and loyalty to the Brand.
How successful would you say has the M&S’ Better Cotton Initiative in India been?
BCI has been a successful program with M&S. Approximately 245 million singles sourced from South Asia in FY12-13 have at least 50% BCI cotton in their makeup. 4000 MT of BCI has been used in our products in FY12- 13. The project demonstrates inclusive growth and equitable development. The average savings seen last year is as follows- 37% reduction in pesticides, 25% reduction in fertilizers, and 15% reduction in water leading to a 34% increase in gross margin for the farmers.
Recently M&S came out with the ‘world’s most sustainable suit’ made completely out of recyclable materials. To what extent does innovation play a role in your sustainable operations?
The rapidly changing world needs new ideas constantly in order for the business to be relevant. M&S has always been known for its innovation - be it storm chinos or feet fresh socks. The sustainable suit is just another example of how M&S products demonstrate sustainability with innovation – the wool for this suit is organic, the lining is made from recycled plastic bottles and the buttons are reclaimed buttons and the care label are made from recycled polyster.
M&S also has a Plan A Innovation Fund initiated in 2010 to support the development of products and processes which improve sustainability.
To what extent has the company’s sustainability initiatives had an impact on the profitability of the company?
M&S launched Plan A in 2007 to address the global challenges on or planet’s finite resources. Five years on, we can demonstrate a strong business case for sustainability with GBP 185m savings realized through Plan A initiatives made available to be reinvested back into our business over the last 5 years.
Jyotsna Belliappa heads the Ethical Compliance function at Marks & Spencer for South Asia. She is an experienced social auditor and a sustainable development practitioner with a global exposure. Her programmes are focussed on education, poverty alleviation, women issues and inclusive growth.
This interview was conducted by Anindita Chakraborty, part of the Sustainability Outlook team.