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Comment: Imogen Cust of M&S on why sustainability is a vital goal

Sustainability remains high on the global agenda, as was seen recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This month the UK Government is due to publish its Climate Change Risk Assessment, which looks at current and future risks to country from climate change. Engaging in this debate and making a real difference has never been more important.

2020 vision

In 2007, M&S launched Plan A as part of our overarching sustainability strategy and goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer. What started out as a 100 point, 5 year plan has since grown and in 2014, M&S published Plan A 2020 with 100 new, revised and existing commitments. During this time, we have partnered with a number of like-minded organisations to protect the planet by sourcing responsibly, reducing energy, water and waste, and helping communities. Projects with Innovate UK and World Green Building Council, for example, have worked towards uncovering the hidden business case for more sustainable buildings.

Big innovation

One of the key focusses of Plan A is to make our buildings more sustainable. To achieve that goal we want to use innovative materials, minimise our use of resources and apply sustainable design to new and existing sites.

That’s where our partnership with Ecobuild and its Big Innovation Pitch comes into play. Ecobuild is the exhibition and conference for construction, design and energy in the built environment, making it the ideal platform for companies to put forward innovative building products and engineering solutions, with the opportunity to become an M&S supplier.

Putting innovation into practice

This is the third consecutive year of the Big Innovation Pitch and previous winners are already making a difference to M&S sites across the UK.

2015 saw central heating additive firm Endotherm Enterprise take the top spot, after it came up with an idea to add a fluid to a wet heating system to save up to 15 per cent on energy bills. To date, the idea has gone through the M&S New Engineering Technology (NET) process – a way of tracking all new engineering innovations - and gone on to be trialled in 25 stores nationwide.

The 2016 winner was Waterblade, an innovative water saving device which provides a cost effective alternative to existing solutions. It takes a trickle of water and turns it into a paper thin sheet of water as wide as your hand, to distribute the supply more effectively. The innovation means a cut in both water and energy consumption and trials at M&S sites are due to start imminently.

The search is well and truly on to find the winner of Ecobuild’s Big Innovation Pitch 2017. We’ve lined up some great industry judges to select the best idea on 7-9 March at Ecobuild 2017. They include Chris Vallis, Director at AB Group which specialises in innovation in the built environment, John Field who is President of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, Rick Holland, the Innovation Lead for Infrastructure Systems at Innovate UK, and Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of UK Green Building Council.

Come along to Ecobuild to find out more about the finalists, see what great innovative ideas are at play this year and how the finalists believe they can make a difference to M&S’s goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer. It may also give you inspiration and learnings on how to use innovation to make a real difference to your or your clients’ retail businesses and the properties in which they operate.


Imogen Cust is M&S engineering research and development manager