So what does a sustainable co-op really look like?

You could ask this question of any organisation and, until recently, the answer has not been clear. Ambiguity about what sustainability is has allowed each to interpret the...

You could ask this question of any organisation and, until recently, the answer has not been clear.

Ambiguity about what sustainability is has allowed each to interpret the concept differently. It has led to a situation where, in one survey, 81% of CEOs claimed they had embedded sustainability in their business – and yet problems we face continue to get worse.

In another example, an oil company was rated as 85% sustainable – but can a company in the business of extracting fossil fuels ever be sustainable?

The situation is ludicrous but, without a well-defined view of sustainability, it is understandable.   

Future Fit

The Future-Fit for Business Benchmark provides an opportunity to change this. It is the clearest tool available to define what a sustainable business, organisation or co-operative should look like.

Future Fit is a benchmark that takes a science-led view of sustainability and describes a comprehensive set of goals.

These goals encompass environment, employees, communities, customers, boards and owners. They show that sustainability means much more than carbon reductions, recycling and community engagement.

Doing “less bad” is important – but true sustainability requires different approaches. For co-ops, the terminology and meaning is different at times but the end goals remain the same.


Future Fit describes 21 goals across several topics, including:

• All energy from renewable sources – this fits with the goal adopted at Co-operative Congress for co-ops to be fossil fuel-free by 2030. It is about working to avoid catastrophic climate change and ensuring that organisations are resilient to energy supply shocks.

• Operations emit no potentially harmful substances – this links to in-house activity and the supply chain. Potentially harmful substances should be avoided or kept in closed loops.

• Customers have access to end-of-life repurposing services for all products and packaging – this is an example where consumer co-ops can have an advantage due to stronger relations with members and have greater opportunities to innovate.

• Creating an environment within which all employees can flourish – For well organised worker co-ops, the five goals that this encompasses (linked to health, pay, and employment terms) are typically second nature.

• Engage and empower customers to act in the best interests of people and the environment. Broken down into three central goals, this calls for a leap in engagement with customers and again, co-ops and mutuals have an edge due to membership (where active) and/or because trust and loyalty are typically strong.

• The right tax is paid at the right time. Pioneered by Midcounties Co-operative with Unity Trust and the Phone Co-op, the Fair Tax Mark provides a visible badge.

Big, fat, hairy and audacious

These are just goals of course, not the journey – and in many respects, that’s the beauty of them.  They don’t dictate how you get there or exactly when, though the sooner the better.

As a micro enterprise and co-operative with sustainability at the centre of what we do, testing the goals out was a must for Sustainable Change Co-operative. We have produced a note to show how we’ve applied them to how we work.

They may be big, fat, hairy, and audacious goals in that the means to achieve them is not always clear; but the very act of putting them at the core of business focuses action on finding ways to make them happen. There are companies, multinational and small, that are grasping the nettle.

They are embracing concepts like sourcing 100% renewable energy.

And there is the circular economy, a concept championed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a bid to move away from the old ‘take, make and dispose model’.

And there is net positive, developed by Forum for the Future, the Climate Group and WWF to encourage companies that put more into the environment than they take out.

They don’t have a handle on everything but they are thinking differently.

Doing better things

Future Fit challenges organisations to adopt goals to guide decisions, top to bottom and across – and it will be uncomfortable at times.

Used openly, transparently and creatively though, such goals will drive innovation, and change, and position a co-operative as leader, not only in sustainability, but in its chosen market place.

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