What does 2015 hold for sustainability?

Sustainability is a core part of the values behind the co-operative business model. Here, Co-operative News hears from leaders across the sector about what the movement should expect...

Sustainability is a core part of the values behind the co-operative business model. Here, Co-operative News hears from leaders across the sector about what the movement should expect in 2015 …


Ed Mayo, secretary general, Co-operatives UK:

We have seen a wave of businesses that claim to be green, but offer little more than greenwash. There is good evidence that co-operatives and mutuals can stand out from the crowd over issues of sustainability, but only where their members make it a genuine priority for action.

There are some outstanding examples of action in the UK and worldwide and we have also seen the power of a collective voice with key wins for renewable energy co-ops in the Autumn Statement, following a campaign by Co-operatives UK and its members.

The good news on sustainability is that there are 101 places to start, and many of these will make you a stronger and more efficient business. The challenge is that it is not easy for any business to be sustainable if it operates in an economy that is unsustainable.

True leadership on sustainability requires exactly what the co-op values say we should have – to be open to the world around us and to take responsibility. What does sustainable retail look like? Or sustainable agriculture or sustainable energy? This is where the focus of our commercial innovation needs to be.

Sustainability will be a core theme at this year’s Congress (on 27 June), when the sector comes together to explore and address challenges – and to exploit opportunities.


Pete Westall, group general manager for co-operative social responsibility at The Midcounties Co-operative:

With a new year comes new targets, and at the forefront of the sustainability agenda for many businesses is management of energy use. Simple measures like ensuring all devices are switched off at the end of the day can make a huge difference to a company’s annual energy bill, and will also help reduce carbon emissions.

While this may be an agenda point for some companies, for us it is at the forefront of our operations. Protecting the environment is part of the values that drive our society, and in the past three years we have reduced our energy usage by nearly 4,000 tonnes of CO2, saving £784,000 on energy costs.

Glass bottle recycling
The amount of materials Midcounties Co-operative has recycled has increased from 21% to 83%

Our commitment to recycling over the past five years has seen the amount of materials we recycle increase from 21% to 83%, keeping over 3,000 tonnes of waste away from landfill sites on average per annum. While this helps to protect the environment, it also equates to an average annual saving of £200,000 in landfill taxes for the business.

The success and progression of our sustainability programme has been recognised with the prestigious BITC CR Index 4-star award for the transparency of our activity. Alongside this we have been awarded the coveted Carbon Trust Standard honouring our reduction of energy usage, as well as the BITC Big Tick Environmental Leadership Award for our work to secure a more sustainable future.

We will be building on these achievements over the next 12 months, with a plan to reduce energy usage by a further 3% and support 40 food banks in our trading areas through product donation and volunteering initiatives.

The challenge is to maintain the momentum and the impressive levels of progression, while setting new, achievable targets.

Co-operatives need to ensure they stay ahead of the game and are prepared for any potential changes they need to implement, and continue to play their part in enhancing the environment.


Gemma Lacey, director, sustainability and communications, The Southern Co-operative:

2014 has been an important year for The Southern Co-operative with the launch of our new sustainability plan, ‘Making a Difference’. Key priorities in 2015 and beyond are:

• A continued focus on saving energy, which is our largest contributor to  greenhouse gas emissions, with a commitment to reduce retail energy consumption by 32% by the end of 2016

• Now that virtually all our waste is being diverted from landfill, a focus on reducing food waste and increasing recycling

• Maximising the value and impact of our community investment and engagement – facilitating more colleague involvement in our communities and ensuring at least 6% of our pre-tax, pre-dividend profits is available for community investment

• Growing our support for local farmers and suppliers by extending the scale, reach and presence of Local Flavours, our local food and drink range, achieving a 50% sales increase by the end of 2016.

The national co-operative landscape has been a challenging one this year and it remains a tough and competitive marketplace. We need to make sure the values upon which our co-operative is built are upheld as strongly as ever and that, individually and collectively, we maximise the benefits of our business model and our co-operative way of working.

Key opportunities will be:

• Helping to strengthen public confidence in co-operatives, through championing our point of difference

• Doing more to inspire customers with our products and services, highlighting our ethical and environmental credentials alongside those of quality, service and value

• Embedding sustainable thinking into everyday business practices and decision making, ensuring we act responsibly in all that we do

• Driving greater value from our collaborations and partnerships, leveraging these for mutual benefit and greater impact

• Encouraging greater participation from our members and colleagues in our business and local communities.


Maryann Denfhy, corporate responsibility manager, Central England Co-operative:

Our corporate responsibility (CR) targets are closely linked to the four key CR pillars of workplace, community, environment and marketplace – and we have tangible key performance indicators for each of these areas.

We’ve achieved a lot this year and it is reassuring to see our work recognised through a series of national awards, but responsible business is a continuous journey and there is always much more to be done on key issues such as food poverty, obesity and the environment.

The key to our society’s approach, which I believe has also helped us to punch above our weight, is the recognition that a collaborative approach can achieve a much greater impact than organisations working on their own.

This is something which plays to the strengths of all co-operatives – and it’s why, as a sector, we have a real opportunity to lead.

By creating networks or communities of partners we can have a significant and sustainable impact. Yet I think there is still a huge untapped opportunity for co-operatives to join together on CR in this way. It’s an opportunity which I hope more co-operatives will seize in 2015 and beyond.

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