It’s no secret that 2012 is an important year for Europe.
On top of the euro zone crisis, increased concerns about energy needs and a review of both the EU Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies, Europe is proactively working to achieve the objectives laid out in the EU2020 strategy.
The UN proclamation of 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives is an ideal opportunity for consumer co-operatives to demonstrate their role in meeting the EU2020 targets.
The EU2020 strategy groups seven flagship initiatives under the following three priorities: smart growth, sustainable growth and inclusive growth.
European consumer co-operatives are not only embracing these priorities within their businesses but also exceeding the targets that some consider too ambitious to reach within the next eight years.
The European Institutions are focusing on improved education and training to workers, growing investment in research and innovation and developing the digital society.
Consumer co-operatives are active on all these points. As a founding principle, educating and training employees and consumers are at the core of Euro Coop members’ work, which develops employee skills and better informs individuals about lifestyle choices. Consumer co-operatives also engage with youth and bring them into the co-operative movement, creating future education and employment opportunities.
For research and innovation, consumer co-operatives commission studies to explore consumer habits and tendencies and use the results to develop innovative products and experiences tailored to customer tastes. A great example is Coop Italy’s line of “Club 4 to 10” products, which are specially formulated healthy foods for children aged 4 to 10, a group where obesity is especially prevalent.
In terms of the digital society, consumer co-operatives are engaged not only in online interaction with consumer-members to help them make informed choices, but also with suppliers to improve the food supply chain and reduce food waste. Spanish consumer co-operative Eroski has interactive kiosks in its stores that help customers select age-appropriate toys for their children.
The European Union aims for a low-carbon economy, active environmental protection, new green technologies and well-informed consumers.
Examples of how European consumer co-operatives contribute significantly to these points include their use of renewable energies to power stores and warehouses, their redesign of food packaging to reduce carbon footprint, their commitment to Fair Trade and their engagement in sustainable production and consumption practices.
Many consumer co-operatives are also located in rural parts of Europe, driving local economies and allowing SMEs to flourish where they may not otherwise.
With inclusive growth, Europe wants to provide better jobs to citizens. Consumer co-operatives, as democratically-controlled enterprises offering membership to anyone wanting to join, are a realistic way to meet that goal.
Euro Coop members in particular employ and train members of disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities, and maintain a long history of gender equality. They also have a record of offering long-term job stability to employees.
It’s clear that the EU needs the European co-operative movement in order to reach its goals for 2020. Our task now is to demonstrate the consumer co-operative difference to the European Institutions and use the IYC as a platform to bring the co-operative business model into the limelight.