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UK retailers working towards becoming more sustainable


Many of the UK’s leading retailers are currently working towards and making progress with a range of initiatives with the goal of becoming more sustainable. This is according to a 2012 report released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), ‘A Better Retailing Climate: Towards Sustainable Retail’. The BRC argues that while the sustainability initiatives are good for the environment, they also make good business sense.

The report has found positive results with regards to the sustainability targets. For example, retailers have been committed to reducing the amount of waste that is being sent to landfill to less than 15% by 2013. The BRC report found that by 2011, a 23% reduction had been achieved. Furthermore, retailers promised to work towards a 25% reduction in energy-related emissions from buildings by 2013. By 2011, such emissions had been cut by 20%.

The BRC argues that the shift towards sustainable retail is vital to businesses if they wish to continue to be successful in the future. The report describes how issues such as reduced access to water, unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, and increased competition for resources are putting increasing pressure on retailers to adapt and become more sustainable. Moreover, the UK government has imposed targets on retailers, such as the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

The retail sector will need to continue to make a strong contribution if targets are to be met in the UK. Whilst good progress is being made, the Forum for the Future and WWF have commented that retailers still face many challenges and should not be complacent.

There is evidence of a number of retailers going above and beyond the minimum targets currently set. For example, the Co-operative Group currently has an energy champion for each retail store. Furthermore, the company cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% between 2006 and 2010 and plans to increase this cut to 50% by 2020. Other commitments have included reducing packaging carbon emissions by a further 10% in 2012.

Marks and Spencer is another retailer that is concentrating on sustainability as a business strategy. The company launched its Plan A sustainability strategy in 2007. Plan A was launched with a set of measurable objectives that were given a 5 year deadline and placed accountability at the center. The plan was ambitious, containing 100 targets to improve the responsibility and sustainability of the company. 5 years on and the company has achieved 94 of these targets and has set more with the goal of becoming the world’s most environmentally sustainable major retailer by 2015.

A Marks and Spencer case study, Marks and Spencer: Sustainability as an effective business strategy, is available here

Posted in Consumer, Retail.

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