How can UK co-ops help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

Midcounties and the Co-op Group are among the UK co-operatives pledging to contribute to the SDGs

Co-ops for 2030 is a campaign to help co-operatives learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), commit to pledges to contribute to achieving the SDGs, and report their progress.

Launched in 2016, the pledge website ( includes information on four areas of sustainable development where the International Co-operative Alliance believes co-ops can have the most impact: protecting the environment; improving access to basic goods and services; building a more sustainable food system; and eradicating poverty. The site is also displays the pledges made by co-ops around the world. Here, Susan Press speaks with two organisations which have made such pledges…

Midcounties Co-operative

Midcounties Co-operative’s pledge is focusing on energy efficiency. Community and sustainability manager Mike Pickering believes enthusiasm has never been greater for projects to improve the world we live in.

“There are two strands to achieving this goal, which are operational activity and our long term aim of improving our energy efficiency by 20% by 2026,” he says.

The society is rolling out a green property checklist for all its developments, refits and new-builds. This includes LED lighting and energy efficient refrigeration – as well as the organisation’s sustainable communities programme, which works with members and communities to help them save energy.

“We launched a sustainability pledge with the aim of engaging 1,000 members to sign up this year,” says Mr Pickering. “That includes things like switching to a renewable energy tariff, and saving household energy.

“We also provide members who want to find out more with advice, products and services through our Co-operative Energy business, to help people save energy in their household via things like solar panels and LED lighting for the home.”

Another part of the initiative is working with partners in 20 primary and secondary schools in Midcounties’ trading area, offering lessons in energy efficiency.

“We have built modules which can be delivered by a wide range of colleagues, from people working in our food stores to staff from head office and the Co-operative Energy team,” says Mr Pickering. “This educational package can also be developed by our volunteers, working in partnership with teachers as part of the National Curriculum.”

The scheme started with a session in April at the Walsall Academy and Botley Primary School in Oxford, and will be rolled out over the rest of 2018.

Mr Pickering says: “The feedback we are getting is that students are taking the ideas back home and telling parents they should be switching lights off and doing other things to be more energy efficient!

“We are also getting feedback that a lot of students would be interested in doing more, so we are looking at launching an Eco Student of the Year award, among other things.”

He believes the scale of Midcounties’ own energy usage and its experience in the areas of energy and sustainability mean it has a real opportunity to help members and communities reduce their own energy consumption.

“We have been working towards this since 2010 and have significantly reduced energy usage while embracing more outreach work,” he says.

“Things are definitely changing. I think people are more responsive than they were because there is a lot more knowledge – and an understanding that things need to change. There are also easier ways to make a difference and more technologies that people can embrace than there were a few years ago.

“The next generation coming through has a better understanding of the work that needs to be done – and our work in schools will make them even more aware.”

The Co-op Group

The Co-op Group has made a series of pledges around Fairtrade, the environment and contributing to the community, linking in with the UN’s goals on eradicating poverty and protecting the environment.

It has committed to giving back at least £20m a year to local causes through its Local Community Fund by the end of 2018. The Group has recently seen an increase of more than 1.1 million members, driven by the launch of the 5 + 1 membership scheme in 2016, which gives members 5% back on all purchases made of Co-op own brand products and a further 1% to local communities. So far, £74m has been generated, with members receiving £61m and £13m earned for over 8,000 community projects.

Linda Berchie, a member of Kuapa Kokoo, a Fairtrade-certified cocoa co-operative which owns the biggest share in Divine Chocolate

The Co-op Group’s pledge to continue its longstanding commitment to Fairtrade means it continues to outperform competitors. Last year Fairtrade sales grew by over 15% – more than double that of the market. In another retail first, it is further pioneering Fairtrade through its unique ingredients policy, whereby all the bananas, tea and coffee used across its entire own brand product range benefit Fairtrade producers and their communities. This latest announcement follows its move last year to be the first to commit to sourcing all the cocoa used in Co-op own brand production on Fairtrade terms. It also means the retailer is 100% aligned across Fairtrade’s own key four food commodities.

Its most recent commitment will see an extra 2.5 million litres of Fairtrade wine sold over the next year. The mutual worked with its supplier Lutzville Vineyard to switch the own-label South African entry-level wines to the Fairtrade Standard; giving hundreds of vineyard workers improved rights and farmers a guaranteed minimum price for their grapes.

On the environmental front, the Group committed to reducing GHG emissions from operations by 50% by 2020, compared with 2006. This initiative has been so successful that the target was met three years early. A new target is now being set.

Another pledge sees the Group continuing its partnerships with the One Foundation and the Global Investment Fund for Water – supporting clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects. The Global Investment Fund for Water aims to raise life-changing funding through applying a micro-levy to bottled water sales globally. The funding raised supports programmes working to achieve Global Goal 6: clean water and sanitation for all.

It means 1% (or 1p per litre) of bottled water sales is donated to the initiative. Group CEO Steve Murrells made the pledge to raise more than £1m per year public at the Global Citizen concert in Hamburg last year. In 2017 alone, the Group donated £1.3m from Co-op own-brand water.

In addition, for every litre of Co-op water sold, 3p is donated to the One Foundation to help key projects and areas for investment in countries in sub-Saharan Africa that need it most. Co-op funding repaired 300 water pumps and meant that 10 new boreholes could be drilled.

  • Read more from our recent series on co-operatives and the Sustainable Development Goals here.
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