M&S Newcastle store with green wall. Credit: David Charlton Photography

+ Retailers’ property, people and produce are all potentially at risk from heavy rain, high temperatures, high winds, storms and flooding, now and in the future.

Would your retail property withstand a flood, storm or heatwave unscathed? 

Climate change is influencing weather patterns around the world, so I believe retailers and property owners need to work in partnership to assess potential risks and develop resilience strategies for retail properties now, and for the future. 

I’ve been working with Marks & Spencer (M&S) to assess the weather and climate related risks to their UK stores and develop appropriate climate change adaptation and resilience strategies. This means I’ve seen first-hand how UK based retailers are already affected by extreme weather events and know they are grappling with the challenge of managing these events in cost effective ways, as they increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change. 

This work is part of M&S’s existing sustainability strategy, called Plan A, which has recognised that there are specific weather and climate risks that need to be considered within the broader context of a sustainable business model.

Like many other retailers, M&S is responsible for a significant amount of property, people and produce – all of which are potentially at risk from heavy rain, high temperatures, high winds, storms and flooding. Customers’ willingness and ability to go shopping during extreme weather events such as floods and heatwaves also affects retail activity and purchasing patterns. 

To address these risks, which can also create opportunities, retailers need to work closely with key stakeholders. For example, M&S is working in partnership with its landlords, the Environment Agency (EA), Public Health England and the UK Water Partnership to assess and manage climate-related risks. Leading industry organisations such as Climate UK, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) are also engaged with M&S’ efforts.

Taking this approach means the financial, social and environmental benefits of climate risk management can be shared across companies, catchments, cities and communities.

For example, following the severe flooding in the UK in 2014 M&S worked with the EA to create ‘Flood Hubs’ in ten of the most flood affected stores. Staffed by teams from the EA, the hubs provided customers and staff with information about preparing for floods and dealing with their aftermath. 

Since then, this partnership has developed, with the EA sharing information on surface water flooding with M&S, and M&S sharing the outputs of their work on climate risk assessment and resilience with the EA. This will, in turn, inform the EA’s Climate Ready programme which helps other UK businesses and property owners prepare for climate change.

This sort of collaboration, planning and preparation can ‘pay off’ in terms of cost avoidance should an extreme weather event strike. But reducing exposure to climate change risks brings retailers and property owners other financial benefits too. 

For example, insurance claims for major flood events can increase premiums. However, a robust climate risk management and resilience strategy can help reduce premiums because it reassures insurers that risks have been considered, and steps taken to mitigate them. 

This is why I think more retailers would benefit from taking a closer look at climate change risks and resilience.