By Daniel Hunter

As the United Nations celebrates the International Year of Co-operatives, the UK’s biggest mutually owned business today (Wednesday) demonstrated how its longer term approach has enabled it to raise the ethical bar yet again.

The Co-operative Group’s latest ethical plan, first launched 12 months ago as the most radical sustainability programme in UK corporate history, shows how many of the original targets, particularly in relation to environmental issues, have been achieved well ahead of schedule.

The new plan shows that in the past 12 months The Co-operative has seen:

- Operational greenhouse gas emissions reduce by a massive 35%, and water consumption is down by 20%
- Lending of £700 million has been progressed to green energy projects
- Pressure groups have ranked The Co-operative as leader in areas such as pesticides, palm oil, sustainable fish and forest stewardship
- A million new customer members have joined
- Support for a new community initiative in the UK every hour of every day
- 700 co-operative enterprises have been helped to grow and prosper
- 70% of developing world products that can be Fairtrade will be Fairtrade by end March

This year’s Plan contains 53 commitments and, in order to ensure that The Co-operative continues to be the UK’s most socially responsible business, includes the following:

- Operational greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 50% by 2020, and water consumption will be reduced by 30% by 2014
- £17m will be invested in support of co-operative development
- The number of schools active in our Green schools Revolution will be doubled to 6,000
- To improve the safety of Britain’s roads, young drivers will be rewarded with premium discounts worth £20m
- A new campaign will be launched with Oxfam to champion small-holder farmers and co-operatives, and the role they can play in feeding the world sustainably
- 30,000 loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world will be facilitated by the year end

"Despite the economic downturn we have remained true to our pledge to show the way on corporate responsibility," Group Chief Executive Peter Marks said.

“The one million new members we now have bears testimony to the continued support we have had from our customers. It also helps that the savings that result from our environmental efficiency initiatives, nearly £40m a year, are being ploughed back into the business to reduce costs. .

“Our work in the communities in and around our stores is going from strength to strength. Amazingly, the average person in the UK is now only a mile away from a community project that has received our support.

“Abroad, we have continued to lead the way on tackling global poverty. Our new partnership with Oxfam is particularly timely given it’s the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. Smallholder farmers and co-operatives already help feed a third of the world, with a little more help they can help us rise to the challenge of how to feed sustainably the extra two billion that will be on the planet by 2050.“

Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness