IT was opening day at the Marks & Spencer store in Bournemouth, and a throng of elderly ladies with curled perms and smart handbags were cheerfully clamouring to grab free glasses of buck's fizz.But for Richard Gillies, an M&S veteran of more than 20 years, there was a different cause for celebration as the Bournemouth shop had become the first store in the retailer's 550-plus portfolio to enjoy a "green" makeover, making it one of the most environmentally friendly stores in Britain.

The shop, which has been a fixture in Bournemouth for more than 70 years, has been a labour of love for Gillies, the man in charge of store design, development and procurement at M&S. He had spent more than a year painstakingly working on ways to make the company’s eco-aspirations a reality - translating the green spin into practical ways to rework the floors, fridges and shelves to consume less energy.

If it is successful, Gillies expects the format will be rolled out across the group’s portfolio. “We are trying things that we believe are economically viable that we are able to transfer to the rest of the chain,” Gillies said.

Apart from the M&S colours, it is not immediately apparent from the outside what makes the store so “green”. It does not even boast a wind turbine. It would have been easy to conclude that its “greenness” was a cynical PR stunt ? a suspicion compounded by a bad start to our guided tour.

We hadn’t even entered the store before it became clear there were teething problems - the daylight sensors in the store windows that are designed to switch off automatic spotlights in sunshine did not work. To be fair to the M&S design team, this was never going to be a simple task.

The Bournemouth store was picked precisely for its ordinariness. A mishmash of building styles, part prewar, part postwar, M&S decided it was representative of the type of old-fashioned, provincial high-street shop that makes up much of its portfolio. It would have been easy to develop a brand-new store with lots of flashy eco-features; but refurbishing an old shop with all its complexities and design quirks - well, the theory went, if you can make this green, you can make anything green.

Once inside, things started to look up. It was quickly apparent that the store’s greenness had been reprogrammed into its DNA. For a start, the entrance now has two sets of doors to help save heat. Infra-red sensors have been fitted in the fitting rooms so the lights switch on only when someone is present. The lights dim automatically once the customers have left, and when the burglar alarm is set for the night, the lights turn off.

The air-conditioning has been revolutionised; posts have been installed that chill the air only to head height ? radically reducing energy usage. The electricity supply is sourced from a green provider, which makes power from landfill waste, sewage and wind.

The freezer cabinets have small LED lighting strips rather than fluorescent bulbs and they have fully shut doors to save power. The escalators run at reduced voltage when they are empty. Even the store shelving units are made from a product called enviro-wall, a substance that is similar in texture to a washing-up bowl which is lighter, easier to transport and a lot more scratch-resistant than the old multi-density fibreboard.

In the toilets there is a dual-flush system, where you can press the small button to save water if you choose. It clearly wasn’t working with all the customers - “Mummy can we press the big button?” said one little girl on our visit.

Out of immediate sight, the roof is covered with green plants, specially adapted so they need little watering. On the shopfloor the products themselves are greener.

Tucked away next to the M&S bedding range was a wormery for the garden, retailing for £89. Store staff are decked out proudly in Plan A T-shirts - the company’s slogan for its sustainability drive (Plan A because there is no Plan B). Some were sporting fleeces adapted from a range on sale in the store - made from recycled plastic bottles.

About 80% of the waste from refurbishing the store was recycled ? the old flooring was turned into traffic cones, one of which sits proudly in the “green room”, a staff room emblazoned with missives from chief executive Stuart Rose and equipped with DVDs explaining the company’s green mission.

M&S estimates the store will use 25% less energy than before and 90% of its carbon output will have been eliminated. Trucost, an independent envi-ronmental consultancy, estimates that if M&S rolled out the format across its store portfolio it would save the company 53,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. But why no wind turbine? Mike Barry, head of corporate and social responsibility at M&S, laughed at the question. “We are not into creating trophy green buildings. It is about creating test beds that we can roll out across 550-plus stores and our warehouses. We could have put up a wind turbine on the roof for people to take a picture of, but it was not economically viable at this store. It would have produced only 1% of the energy we need.

“The programme is an investment in the brand. We believe we have to do it and our customers want us to do it. Sometimes you just have to be brave and go for it. But we believe we will prosper on the back of it.”


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.