NERC partners with M&S on sustainable food production

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is joining forces with major retailer Marks & Spencer to help shape the future of sustainable food production in the UK and abroad.

The collaboration will see NERC and M&S working together to share knowledge, data and expertise drawn from NERC’s £330m research portfolio and develop tools and solutions to face global challenges to sustainable food supply chains such as population growth, competition for resources and climate change.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed and the new partnership was officially announced today at a workshop hosted jointly by M&S, NERC and WWF to look at how different sources of information can be integrated to manage water risks in global supply chains.

The partnership will allow M&S to engage with cutting-edge environmental science to support its ‘Plan A’ eco and ethical programme. Working with M&S will help NERC benefit from a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the industry and maximise the impact of its research.

The partners will work together on three themes:

  1. Applying an ‘ecosystem services’ approach to land use. Ecosystem services include all the physical aspects that support life including water, soil and air
  2. Water risks in global food supply chain
  3. Satellite data for sustainable aquaculture and fisheries.

NERC’s chief executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said: ‘A central part of NERC’s remit is to work with businesses, policymakers and third-sector organisations to help them make use of the wealth of data, knowledge, tools and expertise generated by its research activities. This strategic partnership with M&S provides the opportunity for NERC to increase the impact of its research by working collaboratively to meet future environmental challenges in sustainable food production.’

Carmel McQuaid, head of sustainable business at M&S, said: ‘Having access to and contributing to the latest scientific research on food and farming helps us produce high quality, innovative products in the most sustainable ways possible. That’s what our customers expect from us and a partnership with NERC gives us expertise and facilities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to our buyers and suppliers. And access to our buyers and suppliers gives NERC’s team information and data that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to apply to their research.’

This will be NERC’s fourth strategic partner – the others are with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Shell and Arup.

Strategic partnerships help NERC to build a deeper understanding of the challenges facing its partners; allowing the council to make sure research is relevant and useful, design research and innovation investments to be of greater relevance to partners and their wider sectors, and equip the research community to address the needs of these sectors.

The new relationship builds on NERC’s already-strong connections with M&S. Carmel McQuaid is a member of the NERC Innovation Advisory Board and NERC previously co-funded a knowledge exchange fellow to work with M&S for three years. It is hoped that the new partnership will facilitate the opportunity for a student internship to work with one of M&S’s agricultural suppliers.


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