Eco-Advantage Blog

January 26, 2007 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (1) | Post A Comment

UK Retailers Raise the Bar With Staggering Green Goals

In an interesting coincidence, two large, UK-based retailers — Marks & Spencer ($13.5B sales) and Tesco ($68.7B sales) — have made big green announcements in the last week or so (a good post on this by UK’s Forum for the Future CEO Peter Madden, here). The goals they’ve laid out are aggressive, creative, comprehensive, and instantly establish a new best practice. The details are impressive (see their announcements here and here for more details). But I’ll just list a few of the interesting goals that struck me (beyond the more traditional cut energy, use renewables goals which are also extensive):

Marks & Spencer:

  • carbon neutral (in 5 years), “with offsetting as a last resort”

  • double regional food sourcing within 12 months, plus R&D projects with UK growers to create local options for some currently imported goods

  • all wood (in furniture, packaging, paper, etc) will be FSC certified, and all seafood MSC certified

  • increased labeling to make it easier for customers to recycle

  • no clothing (after consumers are done with them) to landfill

Tesco (speech focused only on climate change):

  • seeking labeling standard on carbon footprint label for every product they sell

  • halving the price of CFL bulbs (a different, somewhat more consumer-focused goal than Wal-Mart’s 100 million CFLs)

  • cut air transport on supply chain to <1% of products (while still supporting the poorest countries in their trade to Tesco)

  • Sustainable Technology Fund of 100MM GBP to support low-carbon technologies (to help them meet energy/emissions goals)

  • work with government to train more engineers in low-carbon technologies

So why are these best practice? A few critical reasons:

  • Money: they’ve put some serious dough behind these goals (in U.S. dollars, $400MM for M&S and $1B for Tesco, both over 5 years)

  • Recognition of the seriousness of the challenge. M&S CEO Stuart Rose said “We are calling this “Plan A” because there is no ‘plan B’”. You can also tell they get it because of…

  • Hard date targets: they haven’t given themselves a heck of a lot of time, unlike dates like 2017 for much less impressive goals in Bush’s State of the Union

  • Creating markets if they don’t exist: the R&D with UK growers, somewhat like the work Unilever’s been doing for years on sustainable agriculture, but M&S is trying to actually build capacity locally

  • Value chain thinking: cutting miles traveled for food? that’s cool, and the right way to think about a company’s true footprint and challenges. And as Rose said, “”We will also help our suppliers and customers to change their behaviour.”

  • Talking about consumption and labeling: Tesco has stated now that they want to be part of the solution on a mass movement to green consumption. This is enormous. A company making its money on selling more stuff is saying, “Hey, enough already.” But, as Sir Terry Leahy says, “Our size and our reach make [sustainable consumption] a particular responsibility and opportunity [emphasis mine].” Sounds like eco-advantage talk to me. But, overall, wow.

So the publicly-stated bar has been raised very high by retailers of late (don’t forget some of Wal-Mart’s goals). But M&S and Tesco are talking about actions at the level that many scientists think we need to — not cuts of 20% in emissions, but in the range of 50% or more. These are monumental goals. Now we’ll see if they, and their customers, come through.



On May 28, 2007, Chelsea Beaulsoleil said:

I believe this one applies “Unless each man prodiuses more than he receives, increases his output, there will be less for him than all the others”, doesn’t it?


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