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Reducing Impact On Environment Is A Cornerstone Of Our Commitments: TG Ganesh, Head Of Sustainability, Marks & Spencer India

In an exclusive interview with TG Ganesh, Head of Sustainability, Marks & Spencer India discusses the various sustainability issues of the organization

Textiles is an industry which has a huge ecological footprint, which includes their carbon and water footprint. It is important that companies within the textiles industry engage in sustainable practices, and contribute towards sustainable development. In an exclusive interview with TG Ganesh, Head of Sustainability, Marks & Spencer India discusses the various sustainability issues of the organization. Edited excerpts: 

How does the Clothes Exchange Program lead to more philanthropy and altruism?           
In December last year, we launched our Clothes Exchange Program in India in partnership with Goonj to encourage customers to recycle their clothes and help them live more sustainable lifestyles.

The Clothes Exchange is designed to reduce the tens of millions of tonnes of clothing sent by the public to landfill around the world each year. All the clothes contributed will be reused and recycled by Goonj and not a single item will go to landfill.

Clothes Exchange makes it easy for customers to participate and encourages reducing waste that goes to landfill and protecting the environment for generations to come.

How is M&S working towards employment of underprivileged youth?         
In 2004 M&S set a clear goal to support disadvantaged young adults through our Marks & Start employability program, which aims to help those who face barriers getting into work. We have pledged to offer at least 25,000 work placements across all markets as part of our Plan A 2025 commitments, our ambitious customer focused sustainability plan. We launched the scheme in India in 2016 and have trained over 50 candidates to date with 5 of them securing permanent employment in our stores across the country.

How is M&S raising the awareness of breast cancer?
We are proud to have been the first brand on the Indian high street to offer beautiful and feminine lingerie for women affected by breast cancer.

To help raise funds and awareness of signs and symptoms of breast cancer, as well as supporting disadvantaged women with financial aid, we successfully launched the post-surgery lingerie range in India in October last year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in partnership with the Ogaan Cancer Foundation.

With 10% of total sales donated to the Ogaan Cancer Foundation, as well as contributions from both the Change Donation Campaign and Employee Donation Campaign. Over Rs. 573k was raised as a result of the initiative throughout October last year.   

How is M&S endeavoring to increase the percentage of Plan A attribute products? How is the sourcing of Plan A Attribute products done to ensure lower environmental and social impact?Every year we sell three billion items to tens of millions of customers. These customers expect us to make a simple brand promise to them – that we’ll strive in everything we do and every product we sell to offer the most sustainable option possible.

We are working to produce our products with integrity, ensuring that by 2020, every M&S product we sell has a Plan A best practice social or environmental attribute.

Our aspiration is to make a systemic improvement across our entire product offer – ensuring that social and environmental principles are always taken into consideration and inherent in individual products, most likely as multiple attributes.

What makes the factories of M&S eco-positive? Are there sustainable methods of production being followed?
Reducing the impact of Marks & Spencer products on the environment is a cornerstone of our Plan A commitments. We propose that our suppliers seek to follow a series of core principles that dramatically reduce their impact on the environment and improve both the efficiency and quality of production. 

To be rated as an eco-factory there is a set of criteria that suppliers must adhere to, such as the reduction of water, energy and chemical consumption. Factories who meet or exceed the minimum requirements are audited and rated as an eco-factory and awarded a Plan A attribute. At present, we have 10 such factories certified in India.

How is gender equality awareness propagated by M&S?
Under Plan A we are committed to increasing the role of women in the management team in India to 50% by 2020. We have been working closely with our suppliers to promote gender equality and have piloted a “train the trainer” program in partnership with the British High Commission in two factories employing 2,900 workers (male and female). We are now scaling the project to 12 factories to work with 12000 workers.

How does the BCI Cotton initiative ensure that there are environmentally friendly methods of production being used, given the high ecological footprint of Cotton?
Cotton is very important to M&S. Within our Clothing & Home business it is the largest raw material and on average we use around 50,000 tonnes of lint cotton each year.

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is about helping products adopt better management practices in growing cotton. It encourages the adoption of better management practices in cotton cultivation to achieve measurable reductions in key environmental impacts, while improving social and economic benefits for cotton farmers, small and large, worldwide. For example, the BCI encourages and promotes reducing the impact of water and pesticide use on human and environmental health.

Marks & Spencer became a Pioneer Member of the BCI in 2009 and with the majority of our sustainable cotton meeting BCI standards.

Today, 250 villages and over 20,000 farmers in Warangal have been certified as Better Cotton farmers who on an average are reducing water consumption by 16%, pesticide use by 18% and chemical fertiliser use by 22% when compared to conventional farmers.

Is M&S planning to venture into more environmentally friendly fibres such as hemp?
Most of the raw materials we currently use come from sustainable sources. However, with Plan A 2025, we are extending our commitment to a much greater range of sustainable raw materials. We are setting a goal that 100% of our key raw materials will come from sources which respect animal welfare, people and communities and the planet overall. These key raw materials will represent at least 80% by volume of the raw materials used in our business.

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