Co-op retailers recognised for sustainability efforts in Queen’s Awards for Enterprise

The Co-op Group and Southern Co-op were both recognised for their work on climate and other environmental issues

The Co-op Group and Southern Co-op are among the winners in the sustainable development category for this year’s Queens Awards for Enterprise.

The awards, which involve a rigorous application process, recognised 31 businesses in the sustainable development category, and 232 businesses overall. The category celebrates the success of businesses which are leading the way with pioneering products or services, delivering impressive social mobility programmes or showing their commitment to excellent sustainable development practices.

Recognition for the Co-op Group follows the retailer’s work on reducing the impact of its operations, its focus on the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and its commitment to drive initiatives which significantly affect its environmental impacts and drive real change.

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

Achievements include achieving operational carbon-neutral status for all 2,600 of its food stores and 800 Funeralcare homes and introducing Europe’s most extensive soft plastic in-store recycling scheme to make all its own brand food and drink packaging easily recyclable.

The Group’s ten-point plan on climate includes a world-first commitment to be the first supermarket to sell fully carbon-neutral own-brand food and drink by 2025. And in 2019 the Group switched colleagues’ defined contribution pension investments towards more sustainable companies, reducing the carbon footprint of the default fund by almost 50%.

CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this honour, which is recognition of the great work and achievements of our colleagues. Sustainability, climate action and reducing our business impacts are embedded into the heart of what we do at Co-op and there’s never been a more important time to uphold those values as we collectively address the climate crisis. I’m very proud of the changes we have delivered and our plans to go much further to care for the planet.

“Our approach is to make a sustainable difference to society and we acknowledge there is much progress still to be achieved and we know we can’t do it alone. Co-operating together with our partners, suppliers, farmers and fellow UK businesses will make a lasting positive change to our planet.”

Independent retailer Southern Co-op also made the list, with award organisers saying: “It has been an exceptionally hard few years for businesses and this achievement is testament to the resilience you and your staff have shown through these unprecedented times.

“Southern Co-op is awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development because it can clearly demonstrate that is delivering on its original purpose to put purpose before profit.”

Mark Smith and Gemma Lacey with certificates for the award

Southern CEO Mark Smith said: “We are honoured to have been awarded this significant and well-respected title. We are committed to being a responsible and sustainable business, playing our part in creating a fairer society and sustainable world. Our colleagues work hard to realise this goal across every aspect of our business and this award recognises not only the progress we’ve made but the high standards to which they work.

“In our entry, we explained that Southern Co-op was originally set up nearly 150 years ago in response to the societal challenges of that time – exploitation, inequality and poverty.

“Many of these challenges sadly still exist today, alongside environmental challenges like climate change, declining natural resources and threatened wildlife/habitats. We all need to continue working together to tackle these issues and truly make a difference to our futures.”

Southern is currently working towards ambitious science-based targets to cut direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the business by 2030, supported by a climate action pathway of planned activity and an initial investment of £5.8m.

Related: Southern Co-op widens scope of its emissions reduction targets

Its directors for sustainability and communications Gemma Lacey said: “The information and evidence needed for this award was extensive but it also made us reflect on just how far we have come and the progress we’ve made in making our business sustainable.

“From reducing energy usage and supporting renewables to the transition to electric vehicles and tackling food waste, there is a whole range of projects underway which will contribute towards delivering our climate targets and ambitions. But there is always more to do and we hope to continue inspiring others to take action and join us on this journey to a sustainable future.”

The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is now in its 56th year with winning businesses able to use its emblem for the next five years.