M&S Sustainability Boss To Peers: “Nobody’s Perfect. Come Clean On Your Progress. Let’s Race To The Top.”

Kelli Barrett

More than 50 companies endorsed last year’s New York Declaration on Forests, but the Ecosystem Marketplace initiative Supply Change finds that only half the companies it tracks have disclosed their progress. Marks & Spencer is one of those companies, and its sustainability boss says we all need to come clean – even on dirty laundry.

24 September 2015 | Marks & Spencer threw down the sustainability gauntlet way back in 2007, when it dubbed its strategy “Plan A” to emphasize that there is no “Plan B”.  In that spirit, it ambitiously pledged to get all of its wood from sustainable sources by 2012.

Although it failed to meet that specific target, it did completely restructure its supply chain, and today M&S gets 96% of its wood from sustainable sources, said Plan A boss Mike Barry on Wednesday at Climate Week NYC, as he urged other companies to both set ambitious sustainability targets and fully disclose their progress, even if they fall short of their ambitions.

He made the comments in response to a new report called Firm Commitments: Tracking Company Endorsers of the New York Declaration on Forests, which was published earlier in the day by Ecosystem Marketplace’s Supply Change initiative. The report showed that only half the companies that endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests had actually released details of their progress toward slowing deforestation, while the Forest 500 initiative gives low marks to scores of companies most responsible for deforestation – including household names like Gap and Kraft Foods – for failing to even set targets.

Barry said that companies can get their sustainability trains rolling by making pledges that are clear and quantifiable, but he added that disclosure will keep those pledges on track, citing an internal tracking system that his own company uses to report progress on their sustainability goals. “In the process [of disclosure], we were able to share best practices with stakeholders and companies,” he said, pointing to the Tropical Forest Alliance as an example of companies doing good by coming clean. Formed by the Consumer Goods Forum, of which Marks & Spencer is a member, in partnership with the US government, the Alliance brings public and private entities together to reduce deforestation.

“We had an ambitious goal, and we worked really hard,” he said. “I would rather have a thousand companies with silver medals than 10 with gold. We need thousands to sign on.”

The Declaration

At the beginning of last year’s Climate Week NYC, governments, companies, civil society and indigenous peoples endorsed actions that would remove 4.5-8.8 billion tons of carbon pollution from the atmosphere every year. That’s the equivalent of the current amount of emissions billowing out of the entire United States, or roughly all the greenhouse-gas emissions from cars around the world, said Sara Law, of environmental research organization and Supply Change partner organization CDP.

A year after making the commitment to cut deforestation in half by 2020, many of those same entities are again in New York City to address the global climate crisis. Though this year, instead of making commitments to end or reduce deforestation, they are discussing mobilization toward last year’s pledge.

Year-end climate talks in Paris are a mere two months away, and the meeting is slated to forge a historic global pact to lower greenhouse gas emissions. And because deforestation is the third-largest source of global emissions, forests are an important part of this agreement.

“We’re not going to be able to stay away from run-away climate change if we don’t address deforestation,” said Eduardo Goncalves of The Climate Group. “We need to do it in a way that really embraces and engages with the business community.”

Businesses are participating, even if it’s on a smaller scale than industry leaders like Barry are hoping for. The We Mean Business Coalition, for example, counts 198 – and counting – companies committed to a climate initiative with 26 of those businesses pledging to a forest-related activity.

The Road to Sustainability is Paved in Transparency   

Like M&S’s Barry, CDP’s Law also called for more transparency on the part of the private sector, emphasizing the first step toward sustainability is disclosure.

Dominic Waughray of the World Economic Forum (WEF) agreed noting that initiatives like Supply Change can help deliver this transparency and accountability.  “You need someone to say, ‘you said you would do this, now how is it getting on?’” he said.

Figuring out the private sector component so they can participate in the right way is crucial because private actors play such a large role, WWF Forests Program Leader Peter Graham said. He pointed out that the failure to include the private sector may have hobbled efforts to slow climate change by saving endangered forests and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD).

“We were engaging with civil society and indigenous peoples but not with business,” he said. “We didn’t speak the same language.”

Law says that’s changed, citing CDP’s corporate commitment roadmap toward deforestation-free supply chains as an example of how they’re engaging with businesses. The roadmap is a five step process designed specifically for the private sector, written in business language, she says.

Kelley Hamrick, an Associate in Ecosystem Marketplace’s Carbon Program contributed to this story from New York. Edited by Steve Zwick, Ecosystem Marketplace’s Managing Editor. Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and Editorial Assistant at Ecosystem Marketplace.

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