Co-op's 'Plan A' has 'toughest' ethical targets in business

The world’s largest consumer co-operative is explicitly linking its environmental and social targets with plans for growth under the Join the Revolution campaign.

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The Co-operative Group has unveiled a plan that will for the first time align its ethical principles with its co-operative business objectives.

The Co-op says that its ethical plan, which outlines a set of joined-up goals, pledges the “toughest” carbon reduction targets of any major business, the “most radical” Fairtrade conversion programme and what it claims are the world’s first ethical insurance products.

It includes 47 distinct targets across all its business groups, including food, banking, pharmacy, travel and funeral care.

The targets cover areas including the environment, ethical finance, global poverty, animal welfare, social fairness, health and community enterprise.

The Co-op aims to be the most sustainable business in the UK,but it is not alone in making sustainability core to its business strategy.

Marks & Spencer has extended its ethical business plan, Plan A, from 100 points to 180 and claims that it will have achieved more than half of these by April this year.

The retailer reported last year that Plan A was profitable and “good for business”, so as well as being a responsible strategy it was commercially beneficial.

FMCG manufacturers Unilever, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble have also made ambitious pledges to reduce the environmental impact of their businesses while improving their financial results and providing an opportunity for future growth.

Unilever’s case for doubling the size of its business without increasing its environmental impact in the next decade is that “customers and consumers want it, it fuels innovation, grows markets and saves money”.

The Co-op plans to launch a “radical” advertising campaign under its Join the Revolution banner to demonstrate the breadth of its ethical business plan. Rather than just promote its retail or financial services business, the aim of the campaign is to encourage customers to join the Co-operative movement.

While The Co-op hopes to treble its membership to 20 million by 2020, it is more than an internal strategy. CEO Peter Marks wants to lead other businesses towards more responsible practices and remind the wider economy that “the plc model is not the only game in town”.

Marks says: “We’re establishing a lead that we want other businesses to follow. Of course consumers are concerned about price in recession, but climate change and global poverty don’t stop because our economy is in recession. There is no bigger priority for all boardrooms across the country.”

Facts & figures

The Co-operative’s ethical plan includes:

Ethical finance:

  • Introducing the world’s first ethically screened general insurance products.
  • Doubling financial support for renewable energy projects to £1bn by 2013.

Building a fairer and better society:

  • Investing £11m in co-operative enterprise by 2013.
  • Boosting existing community investment by £5m a year.
  • Investing £30m in an Apprenticeship Academy and Green Schools programme.
  • Creating 200 Co-operative Schools by 2013.

Protecting the environment:

  • Reducing carbon emissions by 35% by 2017.
  • Adding a further 10% to the 15% packaging weight reductions already achieved - making the total 25%.
  • Increasing carrier bag reduction target to 75%by 2013.

Tackling global poverty:

  • Moving “beyond Fairtrade” with products and initiatives that benefit producers.
  • Sourcing 90% of its primary commodities from the developing world through Fairtrade by 2013.

Responsible retailing:

  • Guaranteeing that Healthier Choice range will be no more expensive than standard lines.
  • Pledging the nutritional content of Simply Value range will be at least as good as standard lines.

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