Expert commentary - Jonathon Porritt

Alt text to go here

"There has been a lot of pain and bewilderment around The Co-operative, but the heart and soul of The Co-operative Group is alive and well... here in these pages, and in the promise for 2014 and beyond."

Renewed purpose and inspiration...

To say that 2013 was a difficult year for The Co-operative would be a significant understatement. One shock at The Co-operative Bank seemed to follow another. That made it a disheartening year both for employees and for that huge number of stakeholders who have always held The Co-operative Group in very high esteem – including myself.

All that is not the stuff of this Report. Behind all the headlines, the day-to-day sustainability work was pursued through 2013 with undiminished enthusiasm, not just by the full-time sustainability staff, but by the thousands of Co-operative employees involved in different parts of the programme. In most areas, good progress has been made, which means that the level of investment back into the community (both here in the UK and overseas) remains hugely impressive.

As does its continuing commitment to sustainable energy. 98% of The Co-operative’s energy comes from renewable sources, and it remains committed to self-generating 25% of that total by 2017. Greenhouse gas emissions were down another 3% in 2013, making a total reduction of 45% since 2006. Its support for community energy has been outstanding (I should declare an interest here, as Forum for the Future has been a significant beneficiary of that support for a number of years), and it has campaigned effectively to promote a more balanced, progressive energy strategy for the UK.

But it would be foolish to make out that everything has been hunky-dory. A number of targets have been missed, and it’s clear that the Group’s troubles have affected its overall performance. Just as worryingly, far fewer targets have been set for 2014, and ambition levels have clearly been reduced.

In the circumstances, this is understandable. But it would be unwise for the Group to seek respite in second best on sustainability performance, even temporarily. One of the most encouraging data points in this year’s Report is the fact that half a million people became members of The Co-operative last year, increasing the total number of members to 8.1 million – including an additional 43,000 members in the 16–24 age group. This is the future, and this is an organisation whose values still resonate very powerfully with many millions of people.

This is the 17th Sustainability Report from The Co-operative Group, and I have provided a commentary for seven of them. This is by far the hardest I’ve had to do. There has been a lot of pain and bewilderment around The Co-operative, but the heart and soul of The Co-operative Group is alive and well. It’s here in these pages, and in the promise for 2014 and beyond.

And we should all celebrate that: our prospects for a genuinely just and sustainable world would be significantly diminished if The Co-operative was no longer leading from the front with renewed purpose and inspiration.

Jonathon Porritt
Founder Director, Forum for the Future

www.forumforthefuture.org

Related links