Sustainability: it’s not just co-operatives that are pioneers

While co-operatives try to assert themselves as leaders in terms of sustainability, other enterprises are also setting an example. Since 1996, Forum for the Future has been helping...

While co-operatives try to assert themselves as leaders in terms of sustainability, other enterprises are also setting an example. Since 1996, Forum for the Future has been helping organisations across the globe find ways to create a sustainable future.

The Forum, an independent non-profit, focuses on changing the food and energy systems which are crucial to a sustainable future. Its members include the Co-operative Group, First Milk, the Phone Co-op and John Lewis.

“We work with a lot of businesses to make a contribution to a more sustainable future but, in particular, we try to help them to take a systemic view and create system innovation. So we work with companies on different levels,” said Michaela Rose, sustainability adviser within the sustainable business team at the Forum.

“Some of them are already pioneers – we help them to get even further on their sustainability journey. Some of them want to become pioneers, and we help them achieve this.”

One of the Forum’s projects, Glocal, aims to help businesses deliver products based on the optimal use of locally available renewable resources. A pilot project is being implemented in Mallorca in collaboration with Ecover, a Belgium-based company that manufactures ecologically sound cleaning products, as well as universities and other organisations. As part of the project, Ecover is working to produce cleaning materials in Mallorca for the local community using local resources.

Ms Rose says other companies are trying to develop similar products to those pioneered by Ecover, after being “pressured to come up with something new and sustainable”.

Customers are increasingly interested in the sustainability of their purchases. The UK’s only telecoms provider to be 100% owned by its customers, the Phone Co-op has become the only mobile provider in the UK to stock Fairtrade ethical smartphones. Ethical Consumer Magazine has accredited the Phone Co-op with its “best buy” label for broadband, mobile, telephone line rental and e-mail.

But other mobile operators are looking at increasing the sustainability of their products, too. Forum for the Future is leading a project to standardise eco ratings around mobile phones, and assisted Telefónica O2 UK in setting up its original eco rating. Vodafone developed its own rating and, later on, the two companies worked with the Forum to come up with another rating that combines the best elements of several rating systems.

Eco Rating 2.0 will be adopted not only by Vodafone and O2, but also by other mobile operators, including EE. It is free for networks and manufacturers to use.

“The Forum helped them collaborate on a more standardised eco rating method,” said Ms Rose, “which shows how collaboration can help you push the boundaries.”

She thinks the shared ownership structure of co-operatives already reflects a collaborative approach, which could mean that co-ops are “well placed to drive system innovation because they are very collaborative in their ideas”.


Michaela Rose’s sustainability tips:

1. Adopt a systemic perspective. Don’t think about your business as separate, understand it as an ecosystem linked to other companies, the society and the environment.

2, Try to influence the system around you. Understand it, make a diagnosis – and try to influence the system by collaboration, by involving chief executives, employees and other stakeholders.

3, Put sustainability in the mainstream by setting an example. Make innovation mainstream in the market, experiment with prototype trials, and be honest about what is working and what is not working and what kind of change you can drive.

4. Always push for more, set big goals that motivate everyone in the business.

5. Tell a story that is engaging and make it tangible for all. The key challenge is to implement change: think how to best do this in business structures that are already there – and make it happen.

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