Co-op launches new ethical plan

The Co-operative Group has launched a new ‘ethical operating plan’ which includes about ten green targets.

The Co-operative Group has set what it claims is the toughest operational carbon reduction target of any major company.

The goal, to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 35% below 2006 levels by 2017, is one of 47 introduced by the group in February as part of a new ‘ethical operating plan’. About ten of the goals are environmental. Topics covered include issues such as palm oil, renewable energy financing and pesticides.1

The Co-op, which includes supermarkets, financial services, pharmacies, funeral care and travel agents, has long traded on its ethical image. But it has been eclipsed recently, in the retail sector at least, by other ambitious corporate responsibility programmes such as Marks & Spencer’s Plan A (ENDS Report 422, pp 25-26).

The new plan brings together existing targets from different parts of the Co-op group and comes in the wake of the purchase of supermarket chain Somerfield and the Britannia building society.

The Co-op has already reduced its operational greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 2006 levels, meaning much of the 2017 target has been met. But the goal will prove challenging given the Co-op’s plans to open 300 new stores.

The target will be met largely through in-store efficiencies, renewable energy systems and transport measures, says Co-op’s head of ethics Paul Monaghan.

It is impossible to verify the group’s claim on the ambition of the target as each company has different assets and business models, and bases its goals on different metrics, emissions sources and baselines.

All the same, the Co-op seems to be aiming little higher than Tesco, arguably the leader among UK supermarkets on carbon reduction (ENDS Report 412, pp 4-5). Tesco plans to cut absolute emissions from existing stores and distribution centres to half 2006 levels by 2020 and to be a zero-carbon business by 2050.

Unlike Tesco and consumer goods companies such as Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser, the Co-op also has no supply chain emissions targets (ENDS Report 432, p 9).

Carbon neutral aims

However,  the financial services part of the Co-op announced in 2007 that it was going ‘beyond carbon neutral’ by offsetting its emissions plus 10% extra for past emissions (ENDS Report 387, p 11). And this target has now been extended to carbon neutrality for the whole business from 2012. The Co-op will try to use projects developed with its own supply chain to generate offsets.

The group will also double financial support for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects from £400m to £bn by 2013.

The Co-op has already pledged to only use palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil from 2015. Half the palm oil it uses qualifies. It now promises to buy offset certificates for the rest (ENDS Report 404, pp 25-26) and from 2015 only certified soya.

The group banned neonicotinoid pesticides from its products in 2009 following concern about their effect on bees (ENDS Report 409, pp 24-25). It has pledged to continue its ‘Plan Bee’ campaign and to seek a ban on other pesticides such as endosulfan and paraquat.

A new target to cut the environmental impact of the group’s packaging by 10% by 2012 goes no further than the sector’s Courtauld Commitment. But the Co-op is also promising to cut carrier bag use to 75% below 2006 levels by 2013 (ENDS Report 428, pp 19-20). The voluntary 75% target adopted by other retailers has no end date.

The group’s new headquarters in Manchester will be one of few buildings in the UK to be rated ‘outstanding’ under the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

It also plans a major advertising campaign highlighting the new commitments and urging customers to join the ‘co-operative revolution’ from March.

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