In the midst of the current, global economic challenges, there are increasing calls for more ethical and responsible forms of business. Given this backdrop, it is appropriate that the United Nations should herald 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives; the co-operative model being seen as an increasingly relevant factor in a more balanced, sustainable economy.
In 2011, our approach to sustainability was revitalised with the launch of The Co-operative Ethical Plan. The plan, to be refreshed each year in consultation with our democratically elected member representatives, sets ambitious targets across issues of primary concern for members.
Our approach continues to earn us an impressive reputation and during 2011 we achieved a raft of awards, including winner of the Observer’s Ethical Business Award; first place in Business in the Community’s Climate Change Award and ‘Platinum Plus’ in their Corporate Responsibility Index; a leading ranking in the Sunday Times’ Best Green Companies List; and winner of The Financial Times’ award for Europe’s Most Sustainable Bank.
Whilst challenges remain, we believe our business model will thrive by delivering value to our members and customers in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Materiality, strategy and governance
The Co-operative Group has always had a purpose beyond profit, and we recognise that certain injustices need to be challenged. We are owned by our members and accountable to them through our democratic structure. The Group Values and Principles Committee, made up of elected members, oversees our approach to sustainability and members help shape our innovative ethical policies.
Our Ethical Plan sets out targets across eight priority areas that we review annually with our members through our Values and Principles Committee to ensure that it continues to show the way forward for corporate sustainable development in the UK. In addition, we have a suite of ethical policies and strategies for our major businesses and in 2011, launched an Ethical Strategy for our Funerals business.
We’ve been reporting our sustainability performance for over a decade and have been judged around the world as a leader for our openness and honesty.
Keeping communities thriving
We have a presence in every postal area in the UK, providing access to products and services at the heart of the community. In 2011, we invested £13.6m in communities at home and around the world, - and we are aiming to invest 10% of monies available for distribution by 2013, with a target to support 10,000 community initiatives each year, that’s one new project every hour, every day.
With our customers, members and employees, in 2011, we raised £7m – well above our £5m target - for our Charity of the Year partners, Mencap and sister charity ENABLE in Scotland, to improve the lives of young people with a learning disability around the UK.
Our members helped over 2,430 local community groups by donating their share of the profits to The Co-operative Community Fund, and colleagues volunteered over 162,000 hours to community projects.
We believe in ‘co-operation amongst co-operatives’, seeking to maximise the growth of responsible businesses and contribute to the development of a more diverse and sustainable economy. Against a challenging economic backdrop, the UK co-operative sector continues to grow and there are now over 5,000 co-operatives nationwide.
We are investing £17m over the next three years to support the growth and development of co-operatives in the UK and overseas. Through The Co-operative Enterprise Hub, we continue to provide professional business advice and training to help new co-operatives get off the ground and help existing co-operatives to grow and become more sustainable. Over 700 co-operatives have benefited to from the Hub’s support to date.
Inspiring young people
We aim to bring about a cultural shift in the way that young people are viewed and treated in the UK, and to help them change their world. Our Inspiring Young People programme aims to benefit one million young people by 2014.
We launched our Green Schools Revolution in September 2011, a new sustainability education programme for primary and secondary schools. So far, over 3,000 UK schools have registered to take part and we aim to engage 6,000 or one in five schools across the UK by 2014.
In 2011, we established a Co-operative Academy school in Leeds, the third Academy to be launched to date, and we aim to establish a total of six by the end of 2013, delivering an innovative curriculum within a values-led ethos. This forms part of the Group's wider work supporting Co-operative Schools, which includes establishing a co-operative society, to which over 200 schools are currently enrolled.
Protecting the environment
Our longstanding commitment to the environment speaks for itself. We have cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 35% since 2006, well ahead of our 2017 target, saving half a million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. We’re aiming for a 50% cut in emissions by 2020, and to generate the equivalent of 25% of the electricity we use from our own renewable sources by 2017. We are looking forward to the completion of our state-of-the-art head office in 2012, which will set new standards for the UK in sustainable design, construction and operation.
During 2011, we lobbied at a UK government and EU level as part of our Clean Energy Revolution campaign. The campaign’s focus is to inspire the growth of co-operative and community owned renewable energy projects and end the use of unconventional fossil fuels such as shale gas and tar sands.
In 2011, our focus on sustainable product sourcing was recognised through a leading ranking in a number of industry initiatives: the Marine Conservation Society’s Supermarket Seafood Survey; WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard; and Pesticide Action Network UK. We were also the first UK retailer to graduate from WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network for our wood and paper-based products.
Tackling global poverty
We believe that, when undertaken fairly, trade and finance have an unparalleled capacity to improve quality of life and we’re proud that over a million people benefit each year from our work. We support thousands of Fairtrade producers and their communities around the world and we will continue to show the greatest commitment to Fairtrade in the UK. Our Fairtrade product availability remains second to none and our market share for Fairtrade far exceeds that of our overall sales; on top of this, we have committed that if a primary commodity from the developing world can be Fairtrade it will be Fairtrade in our stores by 2013.
In 2011, we entered into a partnership with CARE International UK to support ‘lendwithcare.org’. The innovative scheme allows people in the UK to lend directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world, helping them work their way out of poverty. Our aim is to facilitate 30,000 loans by the end of 2012. The Co-operative Bank is also spearheading The Global Development Co-operative – a new development fund that aims to raise US$50m to provide much needed finance to co-operatives in the developing world.
We have long recognised that a responsible approach to finance is crucial for sustainable development. The Co-operative Bank is the only UK bank to have a customer-led Ethical Policy and, in 2011, we launched the world’s first ethically screened insurance products. Since the Policy was launched in 1992, we have withheld over £1bn of investment from business activities that our customers say are unethical, whilst over the same period, increasing our business lending nine-fold.
Looking forward, we have increased our commitment to finance energy efficiency and renewables from £400m to £1bn. We are also focusing on improving the safety of Britain’s roads through insurance premium discounts for young safer drivers worth £20m and safety workshops in partnership with road safety charity, Brake.
We recognise the importance of our role in improving the nation’s health and it is our firm belief that ethical and healthy offerings should be accessible to everyone. We continue to reduce salt, saturated fat and sugar in our own-brand products. Our Healthier Choice options are no more expensive than our standard lines and the nutritional content of our Simply Value products is at least as good as standard equivalent lines.
Animal welfare is a long-standing priority for our members, so we aim for good baseline welfare standards across our entire own-brand range. In 2011, we extended our higher welfare Elmwood standards to fresh pork and sausage products and we are on track to convert our own-brand salmon to Freedom Food standard in 2012. The development of a dedicated supply chain for our milk products has also improved animal welfare standards for dairy cows.
Education for the future
In 2011 the Co-operative confirmed its educational strategy to develop and support co-operative schools across the UK. A key pillar of this strategy is the establishment of Co-operative Academies. The Co-operative Academy of Manchester and the Co-operative Academy at Brownhills near Stoke-on-Trent (both of which opened in September 2010) have gone from strength to strength, working with their local communities to deliver educational opportunities for students, parents, carers and community members. A third Co-operative Academy is currently being established in Leeds. The Co-operative Group provides leadership, governance and business skills to all three of its Academies, with the goal of providing outstanding education in a values driven organization.
The Co-operative is working in partnership with the Schools Co-operative Society (SCS) and the Co-operative College, funding and providing expertise to the SCS network for more than 200 co-operative schools in England. The Group continues to fund the Co-operative College, who have developed educational models for co-operative schools and co-operative curriculum resources to which they have ready access. The Group also funds the Co-operative Education Trust, Scotland, in delivering resources to schools across Scotland. In Northern Ireland the network of co-operative schools has grown with two more schools joining the existing network, which works closely with the Co-operative Group to embed co-operative values.