UK retailer Marks and Spencer has emphasised its ecological credentials, outlining the progress it has made on its ambitious five-year GBP200m (US$393.1m) “eco-plan”.

Chief executive Stuart Rose said today (22 May): “We’re already making progress on our 100 ‘Plan A’ goals, but we’ve a long way to go before we meet the ambitious targets we’ve set. This is a business-wide plan, which means we’re fundamentally changing the way we operate, and not just cherry picking individual initiatives.“

Releasing its full year results, the company revealed that it has sold over GBP22m worth of fairtrade food products, up from GBP4m in the previous fiscal year. Likewise, sales of organic foods increased dramatically – soaring 47% to GBP100m. The group has also extended its organic product range by 100% compared to last year.

Marks and Spencer today (22 May) revealed plans for a trial scheme designed to phase out the use of plastic carrier bags in Northern Ireland. Throughout June, the retailer will offer free reusable ‘bags for life’ with each food purchase. In July, the group will begin to charge 5p for each single use carrier bag.

Across the company, M&S has been encouraging consumers to opt for a ‘bag for life’ rather than use single-use carrier bags. In March the company reduced the cost of re-usable bags from 15p to 10p. Sales have since gone up by 68%.

As part of its effort to become carbon neutral, M&S is also introducing an air freight label to food products imported by air. The rollout is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will appear on up to 150 different lines, the group said.

Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer said that it is in the process of reducing or changing the packaging on a number of its food lines. It has replaced Styrofoam trays for apples with paper pulp trays, “unwrapped” a range of produce, reduced packaging on its Nutritionally Balanced ready meals by 31%, and launched the first plastic milk bottle using recycled material.

Alongside its efforts to go green, the retailer’s Plan A also includes provisions to improve the health of consumers and employees. The company has adopted the traffic lights labelling scheme, reduced the salt content of foods and aims to cut artificial flavours and colours from 99% of food products by the end of the year.