Co-ops can achieve greater commercial success by focusing more on their social goals. And their success will in turn strengthen social performance. This is the virtuous circle identified by the Co-operative Commission as the way forward for “Britain’s £9 billion family of co-operative businesses”.
The Commission worked for nearly a year to produce its report, The Co-operative Advantage. Part of this (potential) advantage is the unique structure in which ownership of the business rests with its members, usually the consumers. Commission chair (and TUC general secretary) John Monks identifies another of the movement’s strengths as “its ethos [which] can tap into the public’s disillusionment with corporate greed and the lack of ethical standards displayed by parts of the public sector”.
Initiatives, action, solutions - it may never add up to a hill of beans until all that effort comes together in a coherent pattern. Peter Malaise of Ecover focuses on some fundamentals.
When environmentalists get fired up to take action on an issue, all too often their efforts sink without trace, drowned out by the turmoil of everyday life. And even when a new initiative does hit the headlines, it may just disappear again from one day to the next.
Which is a shame. Discouraging, too, for those who made the effort to raise the issue in the first place. Worst of all, perhaps, it leaves Joe Public shrugging his shoulders, concluding once again that ‘the greens’ just can’t get a grip on reality.
Can accountants ever be cool? Well, when it comes to making profits truly sustainable, green might just be the new black. Roger Cowe discovers how a new breed of bean-counters is helping companies rebalance the books. Pencilling in the carbon cost: green accounting helps companies prepare for closer scrutiny from investors. Accountants are famed for knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
Which, on the surface, doesn’t sound very good for the environment. But sometimes it’s necessary to find the cost before people start to appreciate the value, and no more so than when it comes to a business’s environmental impact. Although the well-worn phrase "what gets measured gets managed" might be trotted out a little too readily, it’s undoubtedly true that pound signs do tend to get managers’ attention rather more swiftly than generalised talk of global warming.
The co-operative principle in action has produced some healthy results for the fledgling Phone Co-op. Its latest results show a trebling of business over the past year to £640,000. The business has made enough profit to pay a first dividend to the 362 members, whose share capital helped finance its expansion without recourse to external borrowing. “The Phone Co-op’s rapid growth (it now has some 3,000 customers) has given us critical mass, which is enabling us to obtain highly competitive rates from carriers”, said chief executive Vivian Woodell.
The Phone Co-op is also setting out its stall as environmentally responsible by monitoring its carbon emissions and taking steps to offset them. “We calculate that 46 tonnes of CO 2 were generated in 2000 by our customers’ calls and that this will rise to over 70 tonnes this year,” Woodell says. This will now be offset through Climate Care, a not-for-profit operation run by the Carbon Storage Trust, which invests both in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and in reforestation to absorb CO 2 emissions.
Harnessing the vision of local residents is what lies at the heart of the Local Agenda 21 ideal. In a bid to make many months of consultation truly purposeful, and to communicate to key decision-makers the ideas, concerns and hopes that were revealed, Pendle Council has become the first in the north-west region to put people’s pictures, plans, problems and proposals on a CD-ROM. Our Place: Our Pendle. And the medium is part of the message.
Pendle Borough Council, 01282 661984
Giving the green burial movement its biggest boost, Liverpool City Council (which has next to no space left in five of its six cemeteries) has approved plans to use woodland sites, both for scattering ashes and for burials in biodegradable coffins. So far most of the country’s 130 or so ‘green graveyards’ are privately run operations.
Whose is greener? A new council-owned fleet of LPG-powered lawn mowers cuts grass, fuel costs and emissions in Hammersmith and Fulham. The Calor Gas conversion is by Crewe-based Edge Technology (01270 509296).
With temperatures dropping to - 68 Fahrenheit and winds reaching 155mph, Aberdeen's wind chill factor didn't seem so bad. Wind power is to be tested in one of the most challenging climates on Earth - Antarctica. Australian government scientists are to spend US$1 million on several giant turbines, each generating 280 kW of power, for use on Mawson Base where the average annual wind speed is 27mph. “In terms of annual wind that is probably the best in the world,” said Australian Antarctic Division spokesman Peter Magill. “If it works, wind power could replace diesel fuel (which always carries the risk of a spill), reduce greenhouse gases and produce cost savings.” Some Australian and US Antarctic bases already have small wind turbines, used simply to recharge batteries. Fears that larger windmills could not survive the destructive Antarctic winds, which can reach 155mph, were allayed after two windmill turbines survived a cyclone in India three years ago. German company Enercon is now modifying its windmill design to withstand extremes of cold.
Homebase is leading the way in eliminating toxic chemicals from all the products in its stores. The DIY retail giant’s commitment focuses on the list of 27 persistent organic pollutants (POPs) drawn up in 1998 by the conference on the protection of the north-east Atlantic (OSPAR). But where the OSPAR convention targets the ending of discharges by 2020, Homebase is aiming to clean up within five years. Meanwhile, it will warn customers of any of these chemicals in flame retardants, furniture, paints, hardware and other items on its shelves.
Here’s a short cut for local authorities keen on walking to school. Four London boroughs, who have been running a campaign in partnership since 1996, have put a package of useful material on disk. It contains advice, leaflets, posters and stickers, and certificates for participants. Instead of starting from scratch on their own campaigns, other councils can simply buy into what Hounslow, Kingston, Richmond and Sutton have already done.
An internet-based course has been launched to enable company managers to play a more proactive role in corporate social responsibility programmes. Virtual Learning Partners is a project by the Foundation for Business and Sustainable Development, the educational arm of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
Architects working for the Ecology Building Society produced a prototype for its intended new Eco-HQ to show to the society’s AGM this year. Their brief was to design a practical, attractive, comfortable, cost-effective and low environmental impact office in Silsden, West Yorkshire, to showcase the principles that Ecology advocates in its mortgage lending policy. Ecology already buys ‘green’ power from Ecotricity and offsets its CO2 emissions with Future Forests.
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