At a time when the world is facing a series of challenges, cooperatives can position themselves as builders of sustainability, delegates at the International Cooperative Alliance Global Conference heard. The event, taking place in Cape Town featured a plenary session on sustainability focused on a scan undertaken by the ICA, in collaboration with the Candian worker cooperative Sustainability Solution Group. The Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade positions co-operatives as acknowledged leaders in economic, social and environmental sustainability. This is one of the movement's identified priorities for the coming decade.
The scan was aimed at assessing to what extent cooperatives were compatible with the notion of sustainability. The findings suggest there is a clear and direct relationship between sustainability and how cooperatives describe themselves. Presenting the results of the research, Yuill Herbert of Sustainability Solutions referred to ILO’s Director General statement for the International Day of Co-operatives, in which he linked co-operatives with sustainable development. Mr Ryder praised cooperatives for expanding into new and innovative areas such as recycling and renewable energy.
Mr Herbert said: "Cooperatives are anti-capitalist; it is inherent to their DNA. My advice to the movement is to keep on going, keep promoting your co-operative difference. Sustainable development is a sweet spot for co-operatives. It’s about reframing the agenda, prosperity and solving problems rather than creating problems." Sustainability Solutions, itself a worker cooperative at the forefront of sustainability in Canada, used a technical analysis to highlight the key concepts underlying sustainability and co-operatives, while exploring the degree to which these concepts were compatible or overlapped. By looking at annual reports and co-operative websites, the Sustainability Solutions team managed to collect data on cooperatives from all over the world.
According to the scan, cooperatives identified as leaders in sustainability demonstrate a significantly stronger relationship with the sustainability literature. However, cooperative associations do not communicate a strong focus on sustainability. The research also revealed that of the co-operative principles, concepts related to principle 5 (education, training, knowledge sharing), principle 6 (cooperation among cooperatives), and principle 7 (sustainable community development) were strongly communicated.
But principles 1, 2, 3 and 4 were not discussed as much. According to Mr Herbert this could be because "these concepts are so deeply part of co-operative that they need not be mentioned". In light of the scan, Sustainability Solutions recommends broadening co-operative principles to include environmental and economic dimensions. It also suggested co-operative associations to better articulate the environmental and democratic characteristics of co-operatives.
Mr. Herbert also called for cooperatives to contribute to a "living, breathing" database of cooperatives practicing these areas at sustainability.coop. He added: "Our analysis of reports shows these concepts are not merely a public relations exercise. The stories of co-ops at www.sustainability.coop show this. But more examples are needed to see if cooperatives are walking the talk."
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