Co-ops and the environment

According to members, the environment matters to co-operatives and they are doing something to put concern into action, which is great news.  However, there is much more to be done.

At cooperatives congress we decided to take the opportunity to do a simple survey to find out how co-operative members thought their own enterprise was doing with regards to environmental issues. Further input was sought via a similar online questionnaire and a total of 31 responses analysed. Although this was not a rigorous assessment it has provided an interesting snapshot of views.


What we found...

The first question explored the importance of environmental issues to the co-op. The remaining 7 questions explored what was being done to reduce environmental impacts. In the opinion of those that took part, it looks like cooperatives are doing pretty well.  The environment is an important issue and they are doing a fair bit to put this ‘importance’ into responsible practice.  This is great, however, responses also highlighted how much more work is yet to be done.


More to do...

Firstly, the picture is not quite so rosy when you look at some responses to individual questions. For example, nearly a quarter of people indicated that their enterprise was doing nothing to reduce energy use. This was a bit of a surprise as you would have thought that energy, given rising prices and the profile of climate change, would be the one issue being tackled by all. Business travel was another area that seems to have more limited action with 12 of the respondents suggesting that either nothing was being done or there had only been ‘some encouragement’ to promote low carbon (and fuel) business travel.

The second reason for this is, is that there is always more that can be done. Over half of respondents said that their enterprise recycles everything that they can but did not think that they truly embraced the principles of the 3Rs – implying that a lot more can be done to reduce the amount of materials being used in the first place. There is a similar picture with sustainable procurement with only a third saying that consideration of environmental issues was embedded in all purchasing decisions.  In a similar vein, around a third said their co-ops had not done a review of environmental impacts, and that any efforts on the environment were being driven by no more than one or two people.

Thirdly, the Cooperative movement, in our view, really should be at the vanguard of efforts to bring about a new, sustainable economy and society.  Co-ops should be taking a lead in defining and moving towards a business model that embraces sustainability in the whole – that’s people, environment and financial stability.  Being a co-op, employee owned business, mutual or whatever you wish to call it, is itself a key part of the solution but just imagine how incredible it would be if the ‘movement’ got all elements of sustainability spot on. 


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