Do more, faster, together: UK co-ops pledge climate action ahead of COP26

‘Collective action, among business and within communities, is going to be critical to a fast, effective and socially just transition to net-zero’

With the 26th Climate Conference starting on Sunday in Glasgow, the climate crisis – and what to do about it – has been on the collective minds of co-ops across the UK.

Just ahead of the event, sector body Co-operatives UK has published a report exploring the role of co-op enterprises beyond COP26, and organised a declaration on behalf of the UK movement asking the government to demand more action from businesses of all sizes. 

The declaration has been issued under the banner Do more, faster, together.

“Because we are co-operatives, we know collective action, among business and within communities, is going to be critical to a fast, effective and socially just transition to net-zero,” it says. “Businesses need to work together and with all their stakeholders to make systemic changes.

“As co-operatives, we are using the special relationships we have with our customers, workers, suppliers and communities to do this.”

The declaration highlights how consumer co-operatives are mobilising their large membership bases, and how communities across the world are forming co-ops to drive societal change, often in ways that markets and governments cannot.

Related: Co-ops are a valuable tool in tackling climate change, says ICA report

“We pledge to take effective climate action, in our own businesses and as a co-operative movement,” it says. 

“Because we are co-operatives, we are working for a fair and just transition. Solving the climate emergency cannot come at the expense of those who can least afford it. If we try, we can build a global economy that engenders widespread wellbeing within safe planetary boundaries.

“But we are tired of being undercut by competitors on environmental and ethical standards. This has to stop. It is not fair to punish those taking action – while other businesses put profit over planet. Governments must require more of business. But they also need to make it easier and simpler for businesses to act.”

The declaration calls on the UK government to:

  • Provide leadership and make interventions to ensure a level playing field that enables, encourages and incentivises all businesses to take urgent action to achieve net-zero,
  • Make end-to-end carbon footprint reporting mandatory for all large businesses.
  • Simplify the complex landscape of environmental metrics, reporting standards, regulations and guidance to make it easier for all businesses to take effective climate action.
  • Ensure all businesses can access comprehensive advice and support to help them develop and implement effective strategies for reducing and eliminating emissions.
  • Support must include paid-for and subsided advice, grants and green enterprise finance schemes, starting with the adequate provision in the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
  • Start harnessing the power of community and co-operative action as enablers in net-zero strategies where there are societal and behavioural challenges, including energy usage, home retrofit and low carbon consumption, with BEIS and DEFRA adopting high-level cross-cutting policy.
  • Provide global leadership for a just transition, ensuring everyone makes a fair contribution and the poor and vulnerable are supported and empowered, including by supporting UK businesses to invest in climate resilience and a just transition in their global supply chains.

“We are in the grip of a climate crisis and, put simply, we need to reduce the amount of carbon we put into the atmosphere – and we need to do that now,” said Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op Group. “We all have a role to play but government must lead by legislating, regulating and incentivising so that every business, not just the usual ones, step up.”

The declaration is backed up by a new report from Co-operatives UK – The Race to Net Zero – compiled from data collected from 88 co-operative businesses in September 2021. 

Co-ops were asked about their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and what support they require. Co-operatives UK commissioned research consultancy Priestley to analyse the survey responses and conduct an independent review of climate action published on the websites belonging to the top 100 largest co-operatives by turnover as listed in the Co-op Economy Report 2021.

Related: Co-ops must work with other social movements on climate change, says FOE

The research found that two-thirds of co-operatives in the UK (66%) are currently taking action to reduce carbon emissions. Of those co-operatives taking action, one in five (23%) has published a strategy to achieve net-zero emissions. More than half (61%) are taking action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they produce, but have yet to define or publish a low carbon or zero-carbon strategy.

Co-operatives in retail (36%), agriculture (29%) and manufacturing (14%) are the most likely to have a net-zero strategy in place. Nearly one third (31%) of co-operatives have a defined strategy in place for reducing carbon emissions, but are not currently targeting net-zero emissions. Almost half (46%) are taking action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they produce, but do not have a published low or zero-carbon strategy in place at this stage.

“Co-ops are businesses owned by our members who live in the communities we serve, but our communities are under grave threat,” said Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK. “We urge all governments, businesses, communities and individuals to take effective action now to avert a climate catastrophe.” 

What else are co-ops doing? 

Many co-ops are also reducing their reliance on fossil fuel energy in favour of renewable sources. In a joint venture with Octopus Energy, the Midcounties Co-op has agreements with around a hundred community energy groups, guaranteeing a fair price for generated electricity and helping ensure long term energy security.

Other co-operatives, such as the ground-breaking sustainable energy co-operative Co-Pilot Wind Project in Wales, are working to help more people switch to green energy through co-ownership of a wind farm.

Many co-ops have made investments in technology to conserve energy such as Central England Co-operative, which has reduced its refrigeration gas emissions by 69% since 2010 and East of England Co-op whose investment in upgrading refrigeration units has been a significant factor in a 25% year-on-year reduction of CO2e emissions.

West Yorkshire-based Suma Wholefoods, one of Europe’s largest worker co-ops is currently carbon neutral through procurement of 100% renewable energy and offsetting any other emissions that they create. 

And greener transport is being introduced by worker co-op Green City Wholefoods in Glasgow who are trialling deliveries by electric trike.