Cooperatives and Sustainability
March 2011

In business the books need to be closed at least once a year and a report needs to be prepared to advise the business’ owners of the state of its affairs. Cooperatives are no different. Each year, as is custom, La Coop network’s boards of directors introduce statements of their financial position during the annual general meetings for their members. For many cooperatives this statement also includes an overview of the business’ social impact on the community. A rather admirable exercise. 

But it looks like it’s no longer enough. Too much abuse, neglect and disgraceful events have undermined the people’s trust in entrepreneurial ventures. Knowing how much money the business is making is not enough, they also want to know how the business is being run as well as its social and environmental impacts. We have now entered the era of triple bottom line – although not required by law, its translation into what society now expects cannot be ignored.   

This is a pretty big order, but cooperatives will adapt! The social aspect is no cause for concern: cooperatives are used to it and are aware that this is their strength. Social accountability, already in effect, represents a great starting point. As for the environment, when it comes to assessing greenhouse gases, analyzing product life cycles, measuring the impact on biodiversity… we are still trying to find out how to steer through this new course. That’s why La Coop fédérée initiated two pilot projects to rate sustainable development and La Coop des deux rives and Nutrinor are its first participants.   

In an approach inspired by nouricia, a French agricultural cooperative, the previously mentioned cooperatives will conduct a diagnosis, through a dialogue with their partners, of 34 sustainable development-related issues and will determine performance indicators that are relevant to their collectives. Then, they will adopt a plan of action to better align their improvement efforts and, in the end, they will be evaluated and rated by an outside firm. The French refer to this process of rating sustainable development as DeeppCoop.

The DeeppCoop rating process is in reality a cooperative adaptation of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a world renowned tool that proposes sustainability reporting guidelines. DeeppCoop rating can certainly be perfected. We could adjust it even further to value cooperative characteristics. But we have to start somewhere! Anyways, performance rating results, whether simple, double or triple, will always remain a collection of aggregate data that does not provide any fundamental information.

The fundamentals are in truth the ethics on which actions are based. In this respect, it’s obvious that what drives businesses to subscribe to sustainability is different for everyone. Several corporations produce very appealing sustainability reports; however, because their motivation is external with pressure from the people and risks to be managed, they may be tempted to keep things on the surface, to perform a little green washing. A very dangerous path… The situation is different for cooperatives because their ethics are based on social responsibility. In reality, the commitment to sustainability is essentially a concrete demonstration of recognized social responsibility.

Note that the principle of commitment as stated in the Statement on the Co-operative Identity begins as follows: “Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities…” It couldn’t be any clearer! Deeply rooted in the lands they occupy with their fate intrinsically linked to that of the communities they serve, cooperatives find their interest at the same place as those for whom it is convenient to call “stakeholders”. It’s simple logic.  

 

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567
 



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