What makes a sustainability leader? Meet community development champions The Midcounties Co-operative

During the edie’s 2021 Sustainability Leaders Awards, our members the Midlands Co-operative was awarded the winner for the Social Sustainability and Community Development category, due to performing a number of activities that cater to the concept of becoming more sustainable in both the social and economical aspect.

Midcounties works with co-ops around the world to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the organisation recently completed Business in the Community’s (BITC) Responsible Business Tracker, designed to track businesses’ progress against these global goals. 94 businesses completed this tracker, and Midcounties’ overall score was classed as ‘outstanding’ – significantly higher than the cohort average.

Using the insight from the tracker and supporting its overall business purpose of “creating a better, fairer world”, Midcounties aims to connect its members, colleagues and communities together to develop co-operative solutions to tackle climate change and build sustainable communities, focusing particularly on SDGs relating to climate action, sustainable communities and responsible consumption and production.

To drive individual actions amongst its members, the co-op launched its ‘1 Change’ campaign, aimed at engaging member pledges to tackle single-use plastics in the community, and to inspire and engage the next generation working with its 44 childcare nurseries and across its 50 partner schools. Using 1 Change pledges to drive forward collective actions, the programme aims to connect and develop collaborative community projects to tackle climate change across all 20 of Midcounties’ regional communities, including driving circular economy innovations, and helping rebuild the health of water, land and biodiversity. Through its 1 Change initiative, the co-op achieved its target of gaining 1,000 member and community pledges to tackle climate change.

Midcounties is also helping to drive change through its products and services, to take the pressure off the national grid and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Its core initiative aims to develop its Community Power Tariff by buying sustainable power from local energy groups at a fair price.

To further drive the energy transition, Midcounties launched its Community Energy Fund in 2020, providing much-needed support to community energy groups to continue the development of their projects. It also launched community restart funds for local charities and foodbank funds during the pandemic to help communities to re-build. Through these funds, the business provided more than £100,000 to around 100 community groups.

A key priority for Midcounties is to support vulnerable members of the community during the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the business adapted its colleague volunteering focus to support home deliveries from its food stores to vulnerable members of the community. By connecting its colleagues, members and communities together, the co-op was able to develop its food retail home delivery service from a standing start at the beginning of lockdown. As of the start of 2021, the service had delivered to more than 80,000 homes, aiding an estimated 16,000 vulnerable people, and involving 700 volunteers working with 100 community groups. Other volunteering workstreams included litter picks.

The business targeted 31,000 community volunteering hours to be completed by colleagues in work time during 2020, to enable the development of sustainable communities. This target was met. A separate ambition, to engage 10,000 young people in co-operative values within a year, was exceeded, with some 20,000 young people reached.

A key approach for engaging young people was the firm’s work with vet and famed paddleboard adventurer Cal Major, who completed a paddleboard journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats while cleaning up waste plastic. Working with Cal, Midcounties has engaged its 50 partner schools in its ‘Plastic is not Fantastic’ education programme. During the pandemic, the business has built on this engagement with Cal to develop innovative virtual engagement opportunities engaging 100 member suggestions on tackling climate change.

Through all of this engagement, Midcounties has been able to identify and build its own environmental commitments by asking its members the one change they would like it to make to further build sustainable communities. The organisation’s ongoing initiatives help it embed a values-led culture amongst its colleagues, which has encouraged them to, for example, reduce waste in the workplace. This has enabled the business to increase its recycling levels to 99% from 21% in 2010 and reduce two tonnes of plastic per year through its operations, helping it save £700,000 per year on waste costs.

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