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Blog: Marks and Spencer's green streak

Marks & Spencer, the high street’s environmentally-friendly champion, has opened the first of its ‘eco-stores’ this week.

Not content with organic cotton clothing and fair trade food, M&S has transformed its store in Bournemouth into a 51,000sq ft model of “green” construction as part of its Plan A strategy.

The building features redesigned ceilings and entrances to cut heat loss, as well as plants on the roof to neutralise pollutants in the air. The predicted result will be a 25% drop in energy consumption and an almost zero carbon footprint. Another eco-store is planned in Pollok in Glasgow.

The retailer’s efforts are to be lauded, and it has already cut carbon emissions by 30% in the past four years. The cost of retrofitting shops will obviously be expensive.

It’s brave of M&S to spend money on making the stores greener. After all, it is unlikely to help them sell any more clothes or food. Although many shoppers have gone for organic and fair trade clothing, the jury is still out on the extent to which consumers really care. Are shoppers more likely to spend money in a shop because it’s green?

A cynical view would be that it’s just another way of bumping up M&S’s image as the nation’s greenest retailer, which in the end is good for business. However, with long-term plans that include supplying energy from 'anaerobic digestion' – energy generated from waste from its own stores and suppliers – M&S looks like it is making a genuine commitment to green business.

It remains to be seen whether other high street chains will be convinced to do the same. At a time when most of them are being squeezed by ever-increasing rents, rates and utility costs, it is hard to imagine them spending any money that doesn’t directly boost sales or cut costs.

Let us know what you think. Are eco-stores an unrealistic expense, an empty image-enhancing gesture, or does the rest of the high street need to start putting plants on the roof too?

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