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Marks & Spencer Moves Closer to Meeting 100% Sustainable Cotton Goal

Marks & Spencer is inching closer to its goal of sourcing 100 percent of its cotton from sustainable sources by 2019.

The British department store now procures 77 percent of its cotton from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Fairtrade, organic or recycled origins, according to its 2018 “Plan A” corporate social responsibility report, which noted a significant uptick from last year’s 49 percent.

Besides using less water and fewer chemicals than conventional cotton, programs like BCI and Fairtrade say they also help promote decent work and fairer pay for smallholder cotton farmers, ginners and spinners.

Marks & Spencer uses around 50,000 tons of cotton a year, the company said.

Other wins highlighted in the report include the range of selvedge denim Marks & Spencer produced from BCI cotton, recycled thread, recycled zipper tape and biodegradable leather patches in August. The jeans scored 21 on the Jeanologia Environmental Impact Measurement, which classifies anything that rates 33 or under as “low impact.”

“These are probably the most sustainable items of clothing that M&S has ever sold,” the retailer said.

Plan A is what Marks & Spencer has christened its evolving social and environmental roadmap, “because there is no Plan B.” Now that its original slate of commitments for 2020 is winding up, the company says it’s “rebooting” its ambitions for 2025 with “even greater urgency.”

“We believe there is an untapped need in society for businesses to do more than merely reassure in a distant paternalistic way,” said Steve Rowe, CEO of Marks & Spencer, in a statement accompanying the report. “It is no longer enough for a company to hope or assume it is trusted, it must offer society a clear, measurable ‘social dividend’ to earn and retain people’s trust.”

To that end, Marks & Spencer says it’s upping the stakes for its cotton procurement by increasing the proportion of Fairtrade, organic and recycled origins to 25 percent by 2025.

The retailer also plans to boost its transparency by translating data about raw material sources to “on product” information that can help guide their customers’ purchasing decisions.

At the same time, Marks & Spencer says it wants 100 percent of its factories, such as those that make garments, to be on a “sustainability ladder,” with 50 percent of its products achieving its highest Gold Standard.

“By 2025, every factory producing products for us will be systemically improving its environmental and ethical performance,” it said in the report.