This article and the next will look more closely at the various factors that need to be considered by a co-op making the journey towards sustainability.
Use the co-op values and principles
If your co-op is operating in line with co-operative values and principles then you will already be addressing sustainability – you just might not know it. High-quality jobs, empowering people, supporting the local community and protecting the environment are all relevant. Gemma Lacey, at The Southern Co-op, suggested sustainability be seen as a way of expressing the co-operative values in a modern context. Explicitly thinking about how they are applied – and making links to sustainability – highlights areas where you are already strong, and those that require more work. Another advantage to being a co-op, highlighted by all the co-operators we spoke to, is that it gives a licence to focus on more than short-term profits – essential for sustainability thinking.
Be clear on motivation and issues
Motivation for addressing sustainability comes from internal and external sources. Calverts, a printer and design worker-co-op, has, over the years, been influenced from outside – first from niche customers and then from larger organisations – and also by internal pressures such as worker health and chemical use. A primary motivation now, and one common to other co-ops, is that it is the right thing to do. External drivers are important to get things moving, but internal motivation is what makes it an integral part of the enterprise.
Once energised to take action, the next stage is to explore what the issues are. Organisations often have a good sense of this, but a structured review avoids gaps and brings things together. The Southern Co-op undertook this kind of strategic assessment before embarking on current efforts. In considering impacts, a full picture will encompass not just negatives – like emissions of greenhouse gases, pollution, or waste – but also positives – like community support and creating good jobs. In some cases, this may raise areas of concern for which there is no immediate solution. But at least it is then in sight.
Delta-T Devices, for example, in thinking about impacts, realised that many of its issues relate to customers and suppliers. This worker-co-operative, which manufactures instruments for the environmental sciences, believes an analysis of the whole life-cycle of products would be desirable – and while they don’t have the resources at present, this is something they can work towards.
These articles are titled the ‘sustainability journey’ and, in setting out on a journey, it is important to know where you are heading. Ms Lacey sees it as essential “to take time to think about what you are trying to achieve”. Sustainability encompasses many issues so there is a need to make priorities – typically by analysing the nature and size of impact, legal matters, interest of members and others, cost and risk. You can then think about how far you want to go.
The Southern Co-op has made commitments for action and turns these into specific targets as it becomes more informed. One goal was to reduce retail energy consumption by 32% by 2016 – something that was achieved by the end of 2014. However, having reached that target, what next?
It has been common practice to set goals based on what is deemed possible in a specific time-frame. Given the scale of the challenges, it can be argued that what we need to do is visualise what true sustainability looks like and then aim for it. A new approach called Future Fit is a first – and impressive – attempt to help organisations define what this sustainability end-point looks like. While not completely co-op friendly, it provides a useful resource.
Having clear goals is invaluable for driving change, but it is also important for signalling intentions to a wider audience. For example, The Phone Co-op knows that setting targets will help the business score even higher in the Ethical Consumer rankings.
You can read The Sustainability Journey: Part 1 here.