Why Co-operative Principle 7 matters for sustainability

The values of co-operation link closely to those inherent in sustainability. This makes the co-operative model a natural fit with efforts to promote sustainability but does not mean that individual co-ops will automatically act in a way that promotes this. This is why it is important to ensure that co-ops follow the Co-operative Principles and, in terms of sustainability, why Principle 7 is so important.   

The first 5 co-operative principles are concerned with internal operations of a co-operative, making clear what is required of any organisation claiming itself as co-operative. Principle 6 draws an individual co-operative into a wider movement, aiming to encourage mutual support. The importance of Principle 7 is that it situates co-operatives in the wider world and forces them to look outward and reflect on their impacts, both positive and negative. In making decisions it calls on a co-operative to ask whether actions will have a positive impact in the wider world, and, if not, whether things can be done differently. The factors influencing decision-making can be, as stated in the ICA wording for Principle 7, formalised in policies agreed by the membership. They may also be more ad-hoc. Whichever is the case, the external impacts should always be considered.

Why should this be part of co-operation?

The co-operative movement arose as a reaction to social ills of the time and the current sustainability crises embody those problems today. Relentless pursuit of economic growth is consuming ever more resources and driving degradation of the natural world, while most benefits are accruing to those who already have significant wealth. Many people are disempowered – whether it is in work where we have little or no real control over what we do; or in our assigned role as passive consumers. Co-operation offers an alternative to this. The first 5 Principles should ensure that being a member of a co-operative enhances our well-being, giving back to us a sense that we have a say in the direction of our lives, making clear that we are more than what we consume. Principle 7 is there to make sure that – in focusing on the benefits of members – the impacts on non-members are not ignored. Members of co-operatives do not exist in isolation and they can only truly flourish if other people and the natural world are also flourishing. Together, the 7 Principles help co-ops to work towards this.

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