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Creating a sustainable shopping culture: interview with M&S

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The fashion industry may not be one that you’d automatically associate with sustainability, but as global needs become more apparent, it is certainly an area that needs a-dressing (please, excuse the pun). Blue & Green Tomorrow spoke with Mike Barry, head of sustainable business at Marks and Spencer about its sustainability goals.

Consider your own wardrobe. How many items of clothing are simply collecting dust and haven’t seen daylight since you purchased them? Some of you may choose to donate them to charity but sadly, the large majority are thrown away. With around one billion items of clothing sent to the landfill every year in the UK, it’s no wonder that Marks and Spencer has stepped in to help.

M&S has come a long way since its old-style philanthropic business methods and has integrated sustainability throughout its entire business model. Head of sustainable business, Mike Barry, has had a very successful career working in business sustainability and has been with M&S since 2000. He is a board member of a number of organisations, including The World Environment Centre and has also been involved with WWF. In 2011, Barry was named The Guardian’s first Sustainable Business Innovator of the Year.

If we go back five years to the birth of M&S’ Plan A, which was set up to develop 100 points of interest to maintain the sustainability of the company, M&S has committed to help customers recycle over 20m items of clothing and aim to make M&S the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015. Now standing at 180 points, the plan covers sustainability in environmental and social issues.

“One of the big issues for us, being a clothing retailer, is the environmental impact of the disposal of used clothing. Obviously there is a very good recycling industry in the UK and a very good charity network, but we wanted to take it onto another level. We set ourselves the goal of launching a campaign to do that and for the first year, it was real head-scratching stuff”, says Barry.

That head scratching resulted in M&S’ latest campaign: ‘Shwopping’. In conjunction with Oxfam, the initiative involves customers bringing old clothing to an M&S store and placing it in one of the recycling bins to be reused, recycled or resold in one of the 750 Oxfam stores across the UK.

“[Oxfam] are desperate for used M&S clothing; it’s got really good resale value because of its quality […] they then resell it to raise money for their vital work in Africa tackling poverty. Everybody seems to gain socially, environmentally and economically”, explains Barry.

This is not the first time that M&S has attempted to address textile waste. As part of Plan A, M&S ran the major, national One Day Wardrobe Clear-out events in September 2010 and March 2011, which saw over 10 million items donated. M&S have been working alongside Oxfam for the past 4 years on a number of initiatives encouraging customers to recycle old clothing. Initially, the campaign involved customers recycling their old clothing and receiving a £5 M&S voucher for doing so.

However, this wasn’t sufficient to achieve the goals set.

“We said we wanted to take it onto a bigger and bolder level, we need to engage more customers in doing it and that’s where the inspiration for ‘shwopping’ came from, working with Oxfam”, says Barry.

Launched on April 26, the Shwopping campaign has received welcome positive comments from customers and employees alike: “The feedback that we’ve got anecdotally from our employees and from our customers on the shop floor has been fantastic. It’s really positive because it is engaging the consumer in sustainability and helping the consumer live a greener lifestyle. It’s also starting to close the loop in our business model. We sell something and we start to take it back and a lot of people are very interested in it.”

Amongst the positive feedback received for the campaign, a number of criticisms have also been published. In The Guardian, Deborah Orr wrote that M&S should be encouraging customers to be purchasing investment pieces rather than “feckless clothes-buying”.

When asked about the article, Barry’s defence was that the campaign was in direct response to the fact that customers need simple steps to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

“Marks and Spencer is the biggest clothing retailer in the UK, we’re going to lead the way in offering sustainable solutions on clothing. It’s based on four years of hard work already with Oxfam.

“We’re very clear that it’s about encouraging all people in the UK to think differently about clothing. When they’ve finished with it, they can either donate it with us, with Oxfam, with other charity shops, that’s fantastic.

“The more people that recycle more clothing, the better. It’s certainly not about driving more M&S clothing sales. We think it’s a very positive step forward in creating reasons for consumers to live a more sustainable lifestyle easily, in an exciting way, and we don’t see any downside to that, it’s all very positive.”

But with so many campaigns and initiatives launched these days, what makes M&S different? A number of companies have stepped up to the mark in the search for a more sustainable business and lifestyle for consumers.

“We’re very impressed by the work that’s done generally across the marketplace”, says Barry.

“We’re really impressed with what Unilever has done with Nike and I think the more big businesses that are selling a green message and helping consumers with a sustainable lifestyle the better because it makes it normal, so whichever shop you walk into, you see a green message.”

Barry emphasises that for M&S, the difference is “the completeness of what we’re doing.”

Using the 180 point plan, M&S has already made headway by using less packaging, which is now down by 25%, and using less energy—also down by 25%.

“We’re making really good progress on the technical side of sustainability, which then enables us to go out with something big and bold like ‘shwopping’; we can’t be accused of greenwash because we’re doing the hard technical grind behind the scenes in thousands of stores, factories and farms around the world and I think that gives M&S credibility.”

Many companies are communicating ‘greenness’, but M&S have gone about it in a very bold way with the very compelling partner: Joanna Lumley. Endorsing the campaign, she told The Telegraph, “I think young people have been encouraged to buy something, wear it for months and throw it out, particularly if they’re not very good at mending things. I donate a lot of my clothes to charity because I hate throwing things in the dustbin. It doesn’t seem right to me. Hopefully, we will roll up to M&S with something we don’t want anymore.”

Joanna has spent much of her career campaigning for human rights. In 2008, she became the face of the Gurkha Justice Campaign to fight for the right for Gurkha’s to settle in the UK.

“Joanna inspires customers”, claims Barry. “She’s famous across the British Isles with the M&S customers who love her; she’s got great emotion, great warmth, but she also has great credibility.

“She’s campaigned on many tough issues. We see her as someone who cares passionately about these issues but she makes it interesting and engaging for [customers] to get involved with. She’s the perfect partner for us.”

Consumer engagement is at the centre of the M&S’ Plan A strategy, but with sustainability being the canopy over an ever increasing number of concepts associated with living a greener lifestyle, how are consumers able to understand what they can do to help?

“It’s recognising that 10% of consumers are passionately green, we understand it, we get the issues, but for 70% of consumers, they want simple easy things that they can get behind”, Barry states.

“If all I do is recycle one bit of clothing this week and clean one beach this week, I’ve made a difference and it’s a big difference because lots of other people have done it.”

As well as the ‘shwopping’ campaign, Blue & Green Tomorrow has previously reported on the Big Beach Clean, which begins today (May 11), encouraging customers to go to around 50 different beaches across the UK. Nearly 9000 employees will be there to help with the cleaning of beaches, rivers and canals in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

“Whilst shwopping is about changing how we run our business, we also have to support local communities and we’ve been doing lots of good work to make sure all our fish is sustainable, driving down the use of carrier bags in our food halls by 80%, which protects marine environment from pollution; the profits from charging 5p for bags goes to WWF and the MCS.

“The money from the MCS is funding the Big Beach Clean. It allows our customers to make a difference, get out there in their local communities, clean the beach for a couple of hours, have some fun and feel they’ve made a difference.”

Looking to the future and the development of sustainability strategies, M&S believe the government has a vital part to play. Creating green infrastructure, generating capacity to supply green energy around the UK, introducing green taxes as well as long-term policy frames to encourage businesses to go green are all areas in which the government can aid the movement towards a greener future.

Barry concludes very succinctly: “The Government is a vital part of this journey, so is business, and so is the consumer. Those three things have to work together for us to become a sustainable society and a sustainable economy.”

Further reading:

Gucci and Pump group releases sustainability plan

Going beyond Fairtrade Fortnight

Government takes small but positive steps in Queen’s Speech

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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