Marks and Spencer will on Monday pledge to spend up to £200m over the next five years implementing an ambitious “eco-plan” to become Britain’s greenest retailer.
Stealing the march on rivals in the battle to win favour with the growing swell of environmentally-conscious consumers, Stuart Rose, chief executive, will promise to become carbon neutral and send no waste to landfill by 2012.
Mr Rose conceded the 100-point plan was “deliberately ambitious and in some areas difficult”, but said “doing anything less was not an option.
“The whole [environmental debate] is going to snowball this year”.
While all the big supermarkets have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce waste, none has gone as far as M&S.
The retailer will spend up to £200m over the next five years implementing the plan across the business and through its supply chain.
Mr Rose said he would spend up to £20m in capital over the next financial year to fund the programme, with up to £40m coming from revenue this year.
“We may have to absorb some costs, but if you believe what Al Gore said [in The Inconvenient Truth], sustainable business can be profitable business and I do believe that if consumers can see the difference we will benefit,” said Mr Rose, who screened Mr Gore’s film to his 150 top executives in London last November.
M&S is joining a handful of British businesses, including HSBC and BritishSkyBroadcasting, which have chosen to become “carbon neutral”, meaning their operations do not contribute to climate change.
This will require the company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, most of which are likely to arise from the use of energy in its outlets and from its transport fleet, by as much as possible.
This could be achieved with new equipment, such as low energy lighting, and changes to vehicles, such as running them on electricity or on biofuels derived from plants.
M&S said remaining emissions would be offset by investing in projects, such as wind farms or solar energy, that reduce emissions in developing countries.
Many retailers, despite having a relatively small carbon footprint when compared with heavy industrial industry, have jumped on the green bandwagon as consumers become increasingly concerned about the environment.
Last year, Tesco pledged to invest £100m in an environmental fund to develop renewable energy and set a target to halve energy use by 2010, against its 2000 figures, with Asda and J Sainsbury also setting targets on carbon emissions and waste reduction.
Other key initiatives for M&S include extending sustainable sourcing to by using only sustainable sources of wood and fish; using recycled plastic rather than oil to make polyester; setting new standards in ethical trade by converting key ranges to 100 per cent Fairtrade cotton; and promoting healthier eating among customers.
It will also promote local sourcing and will start sticking red aeroplane labels on foods that have been flown in to the UK.