Marks & Spencer and the story of "shwopping"

Stephen Whiteside

Marks & Spencer is, perhaps, the most famous name on the British high-street. The 130-year-old retailer runs more than 750 stores nationwide, is the country's biggest clothing and homewares chain, and sells a range of popular speciality foods. But the company's importance extends much further into the national consciousness, as it is both a much-loved institution and a closely-scrutinised economic bellwether.

When Marks & Spencer set out to attain new standards in the area of sustainability, a welter of headlines duly followed. Its "Plan A" initiative, introduced in 2007, encompassed more than 100 commitments to ethnical and eco-friendly business practices. Managing waste was a core part of this programme - and its ultimate ambition in this area is to recycle or reuse up to 450 million items of apparel previously sold to consumers.