Co-op Group unveils ten-point plan to hit zero-carbon by 2040

‘We are facing a monumental climate change crisis … We must recognise that we are in part responsible and that we have to do more and quicker’

The Co-op Group has today announced a 10-point action plan to drive its goal of net-zero emissions by 2040.

The announcement – which comes as the retailer announces a decade of carbon-neutrality at its Funeralcare business – includes pledges to remove carbon from its products, for low-carbon pension fund investments, and to step up its campaigning on the issue.

It also aims to be the first supermarket in the world to sell fully  to sell fully carbon neutral own brand food and drink by 2025. 

Co-op Food CEO, Jo Whitfield said: “We are facing a monumental climate change crisis entirely of our own making. We must recognise that we are in part responsible and that we have to do more and quicker.

“Today, we are sharing the action we are taking, unveiling a comprehensive plan rooted in science. Emissions from our operations and our own-brand products are where we have the greatest responsibility and can make the biggest difference.

Jo Whitfield, head of Co-op Food, is having her pay linked to the Group’s carbon targets

“Now when our members buy Co-op branded products and services we give local causes a helping hand and we’ll be addressing the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis. Funding schemes worldwide to tackle carbon emissions and supporting reforestation in the UK.”

The ten point plan is as follows:

  1. Long term changes to make the Group a net zero business by 2040, for operations and products
  2. Set clear short-term milestones to reduce the impact of operations by 50% and products by 11%, both by 2025
  3. Rapidly reduce carbon from operations and products, reporting progress publicly
  4. Compensate for climate impact – taking responsibility for ongoing emissions to make operations carbon neutral from 2021 and own-brand products by 2025
  5. Help customers and members to move to lower carbon lifestyles, starting by price matching between its own-brand plant-based products and their meat or dairy-based equivalent.
  6. Aigning finance, including carbon offsets and pension funds, to support lower carbon investments
  7. Helping farmers, producers and communities to transition fairly to a low carbon future
  8. Advocating with government to press for the necessary systemic change, including a call for greater climate impact disclosure and support for the most vulnerable
  9. Working together across our sectors, sharing plans and solutions, seeking to align rather than compete
  10. Prioritising the plan and linking the pay of Food CEO Jo Whitfield to achieving the carbon reduction targets.

Ms Whitfield added: “This is a hugely significant year and the world will be watching as the UK government hosts the largest climate change conference ever (COP-26). Just as the government must be ambitious in delivering against its own commitments, we must all be bold and take collective action to tackle climate change.”

As part of its campaign pledge, the Group has called on the government take some immediate steps, including:

  • Mandating all businesses to report their full end to end greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reaffirm its target of 0.7% of gross national income to international aid and development, including for investment in climate resilience, without delay
  • Greater transparency and penalties to prevent further deforestation, particularly for the production of soy.

The Group added that its Ethical Consumerism Report, which has tracked ethical expenditure year by year over the past two decades, reveals that sales of meat-free and dairy-free products have increased by 25% and 28% and that almost one in three people intend to eat less meat and dairy than before. The report shows that sales of vegetarian and plant-based alternatives have doubled in a decade, up from £541m in 2010 to over £1bn. Green finance has topped £46.5bn while green home measures have also doubled in sales since 2010.

Related: Dairy co-op Arla launches green energy and sustainability data initiatives

Sarah Wakefield, head of food transformation at WWF-UK, said: “With nature in freefall and our climate in crisis, we need urgent action if we are to stand a chance of protecting our one shared home. We welcome this climate plan from Co-op and encourage all businesses to align with 1.5°C climate targets and support deforestation-free supply chains that do not contribute to the destruction of nature at home or overseas.”

Louisa Cox, Director of Impact at Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Fairtrade warmly welcomes these ground-breaking commitments from the Co-op. With 46% of the UK’s carbon footprint caused by emissions abroad, the Co-op’s call for retailers to act on ‘full end to end’ emissions shows integrity and ambition in the face of the climate emergency.”

Funeralcare milestone

The Group says its Funeralcare division has been carbon neutral since 2011 – with all of its electricity coming from renewable sources including from Co-op Power’s network of UK wind farms – and it will play a central role in delivering the Group’s pledge.

Last year, Co-op Funeralcare, which has 800 funeral homes across the UK, invested £4m in a new fleet of hybrid ceremonial vehicles. Furthermore, electric vehicle charging points are set to be a standard feature across all new care centres that open in 2021 and beyond.

The provider says is also committed to helping take care of the world’s forests by using FSC certified and other controlled materials in the production of coffins.

In addition, it offers a range of green or eco burials, which use biodegradable coffins including those made from cardboard, bamboo or banana leaves.

Managing director Sam Tyrer said: “When it comes to reversing the impending climate catastrophe, we are at a crucial tipping point that global businesses and world leaders cannot ignore.

“While Co-op Funeralcare has been carbon neutral across its operations for the last decade, we know there is so much more to be done not just to offset, but to drive down carbon emissions. In the past twelve months alone we have invested heavily in hybrid ceremonial vehicles whilst also looking at how electric vehicles can be added to our fleet.

“We also know that the way people choose to say goodbye is changing which is reflected in our eco-funeral offering and we aim to lead the way in ensuring that people can have a final farewell that does not adversely impact the environment. We are pleased to be working as one Co-op, to help tackle what is surely the biggest challenge of our generation.”