A pitch for a co-op sustainability network

This is the pitch that I made at Co-ops Congress on Saturday 27th June. It received a lot of support and was voted through as an idea that should be carried forward. In the spirit of transparency I thought that it would be good to put it somewhere where others could access it.

This isn’t my pitch; it was generated at the end of the Worker Coop weekend and is inspired by the real spirit of co-operation that infused the discussion there.

It is over two years since the International Co-operative Alliance published The Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade that presented a vision of co-ops as acknowledged leaders on sustainability. While there are many examples of co-ops that are doing great things in the UK and around the world it is not enough to realise the ICA vision and it is not enough to make the difference that is needed. We need to do more and we need to do it co-operatively.

Addressing sustainability needs to be a core co-op skill and something that every co-op is actively engaged with. Our proposal is focused on putting the mechanisms in place over the next year to try and make this a reality for the UK co-operative sector. This may be ambitious, but ambition and urgent action are what is required.  


The pitch focuses on a relatively simple proposal:  that the sector agrees to support a group of co-operators to facilitate action across co-ops.  That group should draw together enthusiasts and those who are responsible for taking action in their co-ops. It should include people from the different types of co-ops as each will have different issues and perspectives. The work of that group would need to be decided by the group but it should provide a forum to help develop training, improve understanding, share good practice, and co-ordinate activity – like the proposals we have heard today. It could help forge alliances with other organisations that have similar goals.

The second part of the pitch is that making this work requires each Co-op to agree to support this activity and we would call on you all as members or employees to go back to your co-operative and recommend getting involved. Support could take many different forms from enabling a member to be part of the group; developing your own action plan and sharing it; feeding in your experiences and ideas; to providing financial or in kind support for any activities – there are lots of possibilities.


It is wonderful that we are here today talking about sustainability but it needs to be something that we talk about all the time and we believe that a group such as we are proposing could help that happen. We have support for this idea on the Worker Co-op Council and a number of people committed to be involved – but more is needed. Coops have the potential to show the way in production, consumption and services that enable people and the natural world to thrive. Individual co-ops can make a huge contribution in the effort towards sustainability but by working together and co-ordinating that, this could be multiplied. We believe that if our pitch was adopted then it could be a catalyst for the step change in effort that is required. The co-operatives movement arose to address social ills of the times and many of our current ills are inherent to sustainability. We think that co-ops can lead the way towards sustainability and we need to start doing that now.

The idea for this pitch was generated in discussion with Debbie Harley, Celia Ashman, Jenneth Parker and Ian Russell at the UK Worker Co-op Weekend.


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