Leading on sustainability: Co-operators wanted as we don’t have time to waste

In June, Co-operative Congress gave overwhelming support to the idea that co-ops should be doing more to tackle the environmental and social problems society faces – and become...

In June, Co-operative Congress gave overwhelming support to the idea that co-ops should be doing more to tackle the environmental and social problems society faces – and become real leaders in the push for sustainability.

It was agreed that a network of experienced and enthusiastic co-operators should come together and facilitate action. Are you up for the challenge of making a better future?

The idea I proposed at Congress arose from discussions at the Worker Co-op Weekend in Oxfordshire in May and reflects a recognition that a lot more has to be done. Just reading the news makes a compelling case for urgent action and co-ops are well placed to be at the forefront of change.

The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade also spells out a goal for co-ops to be acknowledged leaders on sustainability.   

Is your co-op working on sustainability issues – such as employee well-being, energy management or ethical procurement? Or is it an area where you want to do more? Do you have skills in co-ordinating networks, active member involvement or social media? These are all areas that could be linked through a movement-wide sustainability network, creating a hub of sustainability pioneers.

So what next? The first step is to establish the network. This requires people to stand up – and while some have generously done so, more help is required.

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There must be contributions from all types and scale of co-ops as each has different issues, perspectives and ideas to bring. People can get involved with the network at any time but getting things going quickly is a priority. Even with the best will in the world it will not succeed without wholehearted support from across the sector.

The ideas and work pursued will be decided by those involved, with input from across the sector. The original idea was that taking action around sustainability should be a core co-op skill and something all are engaged with – this provides a good starting point.

It is not about developing a central programme of activity; more finding areas where the biggest gains can be made and finding ways to ensure that they happen.

Determining a common understanding of what sustainability means to co-operation is another possible core activity, along with highlighting and utilising tools to make and assess progress. Perhaps a programme of training is necessary? An area where co-operators have real strength is in peer learning. There seems to be a real opportunity to unpick good practice and uncover what makes things work that can be replicated by others.

Whatever the work, it will need energy and boldness to experiment with new ideas.

The co-operative movement arose to address social ills of the time. Today, many of society’s problems stem from issues around sustainability, and now co-ops have the potential to show the way in production, consumption and services that enable people and the natural world to thrive.

Realising the conditions required for sustainability won’t happen without co-operation – and co-operation should lead the way. There is time to make a difference but there really is no time to waste.

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