26 November, 2014

The source of everything

"At school, business and geography were the subjects I was really interested in, and I didn't want to do a degree in one or the other, I wanted to study something which was in the news and a growth area. At that time there were just three degrees in the UK covering sustainable business (I went to the University of Dundee), now there's hundreds, so I was glad I graduated when I did! At the end of my first year I had learnt a lot about companies that were leading on CSR and sustainability, especially M&S. They showed leadership by being the first to start charging people for carrier bags, the first to be zero waste to landfill and they were building really innovative stores all around the country. This left an impression on me, and so this was a role I wanted to get into. 

I know we are doing a great job in making sure that the raw materials (e.g wood, soy, palm oil, coffee and cocoa) we use in our products don't contribute to deforestation, but we need to keep raising the bar as we learn about our impact on the environment and communities. If we can, continue to move M&S forward every year. If we can share what we are doing to become a responsible business, then we can really play a part in doing something about the rate of deforestation. 

Our commitment to only source sustainable wood material was one of the first under Plan A. This commitment covers everything. So on the product side it's furniture, it's photo frames, it's Christmas cards. And then it's the packaging that the customer takes home. After that it's our buildings, the fit out, the displays. It really is everything. We really want to be the most responsible buyer of wood supplies in everything we do.

18 months ago we had made great progress but had got stuck; so I started looking at this commitment. It really was a needle in a haystack exercise trying to look into the traceability of some of our supply chains. So, we changed the process and asked suppliers for far greater supply chain information, right back to the forest it came from. That isn't always easy for suppliers to get hold of due to business confidentially, limited purchasing power and more often than not other buyers don't require the same level of due diligence as we do, so they're not used to passing this kind of information on. 

To give you an idea of the scale we now go to on this particular commitment, in 2013 the system recorded over 58 million kg of wood material to a detail that I could tell you the forest the abrasive paper on our nail files comes from in the Far East.

But it's not just about us. We're seen as a leader in this space and we have to maintain that. Our aim is that all our wood will be FSC or from recycled sources, but for some of the wood material we use, these sources simply don't exist yet. And we can't just click our fingers and have an FSC supplier overnight, it takes years to get forests FSC certified and for some small forest owners it doesn't make financial sense. 

We want to lead in integrity, so we have to be out there, engaging with NGOs and sharing our learnings with other retailers. There are companies out there selling more wood products than us, so if we can engage with them, get them asking more questions and demanding more sustainable products, the easier it becomes for all of us. That way we really can change things for the better, across the sector, at the pace required. 

I've learnt a lot about what 'integrity' means in practice, for M&S, for NGOs and for our customers by delivering on this commitment for the business. 

For me, our systems and policies are the catalysts for building our integrity, they give us confidence in the market place and instill customer loyalty and stakeholder trust." 


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