The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

Cooperatives Inherently More Sustainable


co-op business structure

Thibault Worth (what a great name) at the Guardian debunks the idea that cooperative groups are “limited to small grocery stores in hippie towns.”

Co-ops have become major forces in the banking, insurance and retail industries. Revenues from the 300 largest co-ops total more than $2tn worldwide, and co-ops employ more than 100 million people around the globe according to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).
And while corporations have received most of the attention for sustainability efforts in recent years, advocates claim that co-ops are inherently more sustainable. The argument goes that the co-op structure, in which workers or members own the business equally, makes them more democratic than corporations, and therefore more community-oriented. In addition, almost all coops are initially founded to address some sort of societal ill, making them predisposed to tackle issues beyond the scope of traditional business.
“Co-op owners are making decisions every day that balance their livelihoods with the impact in the community,” says Charles Gould, director-general of the ICA. “From that, perspective, we believe the model is best aligned with the objectives of sustainability.”
For-profit cooperatives, such as REI, the Co-operative Group and Organic Valley, have garnered increasing attention for sustainability mandates that emphasise community engagement, as well as environmental stewardship. Beyond reducing inputs of water and energy and outputs of waste and greenhouse gas emissions, these co-ops are looking to do nothing less than redefine the role of business in society.
They’re also helping to change the very definition of sustainability. Few co-ops seem to focus their sustainability efforts on eco-efficiency improvements that have a rapid, measurable impact on the bottom line. Instead, social and community impact tends to play the star role. Depending on the organisation, enhancing sustainability can include community engagement, environmental stewardship, institutional resilience and even employee happiness.
“The co-ops that have become really interesting in the sustainability space are the ones that understand that taking care of their community is a 360-degree task, says Mark Lee, executive director of the consulting firm SustainAbility, based in Berkeley. “The organsations still serve their original [profit-driven] charters, but understand that sustainability writ large is a full package of environmental, social and economic initiatives.”

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

2 thoughts on “Cooperatives Inherently More Sustainable

  1. Co-Ops what a hopeful idea. Anything to replace the other C word!!!!

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