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Marks & Spencer Plan A: Because there is no Plan B
Sarah Rich, 4 May 07
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We've talked in the past about the use of nutrition labels as a familiar format for conveying environmental impact facts to consumers. Timberland, among others, has used the approach by tacking labels onto the outside of boxes or the sleeves of shirts. The UK chain Marks & Spencer has taken a slightly different angle on this idea -- instead of adding extra labels, they've changed the language on the existing tags in their apparel to suggest more environmentally responsible methods for ongoing care of their clothes. When you go to find out how to wash a garment, you'll find a little note: "Think Climate – Wash at 30˚C." Instead of telling the backstory, these labels suggest a way to create a future story worth telling.

This is the newest of a whole slew of measures being taken by M&S under their new sustainability agenda, "Plan A," which also includes a label for products air freighted to the shelves. It seems these days like the UK more than any other place has embraced the idea expressed in the M&S tagline -- "There is no Plan B" -- and that GHG reduction is absolutely crucial and must be incorporated into every daily action we take. Of course, this is perhaps largely a result of the UK having one of the largest carbon footprints on the world. (Queen Elizabeth's flight to the US yesterday was offset for $22,000 British taxpayer dollars -- a good symbol of environmental awareness, but not necessarily the world's most effective measure, given that the Boeing 777-200ER carried only 35 people across the pond.)

But big business in the UK, much like Wal-Mart, wants to aggregate many small measures as a part of ambitious but practical plans to change the way consumers obtain, use and dispose of goods.

Plan A is our five-year, 100-point plan to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our business and our world. It will see us working with our customers and our suppliers to combat climate change, reduce waste, safeguard natural resources, trade ethically and build a healthier nation. We're doing this because it's what you want us to do. It's also the right thing to do. We're calling it Plan A because we believe it's now the only way to do business. There is no Plan B.

The M&S plan is appealing because it's more about prevention than treatment. They are not waxing lyrical about carbon offsetting their emissions or recycling their materials, but about cutting their emissions and selecting raw materials from renewable and sustainable sources. Their five focus areas are climate change, raw materials, waste, healthy eating and fair partner, and through addressing each, they embed better and greener practices into their products -- an important factor in creating widespread change across consumer sectors. It's harder to get individual consumers to change their behavior than to simply sell them a product that's been designed and manufactured for lower impact. They've set short timelines on their goals, so we won't have to wait long to find out how much difference many small measures make when implemented en masse.

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