Our values & principles and, in turn, the reputation they have earned us with our customers and members, have provided us with considerable strength at a time of reduced confidence in business.
We continue to lead the way in many of the areas of sustainability that matter to our customers and members. This leadership has been recognised, during 2009, through a host of accolades: not least, our number one ‘green’ ranking amongst supermarkets, and our ranking as the bank customers were most likely to recommend, in the Concerned Consumer Index; Retail Week’s Responsible Retailer of the Year; the RSPCA’s People’s Choice Supermarket Award; Business in the Community’s (BitC) Environmental Leadership Award; and leading rankings for CFS and the Group in BitC’s Corporate Responsibility Index.
2009 saw the launch of a new customer-mandated Ethical Policy for The Co-operative Bank, the introduction of new initiatives that support the member-directed Ethical Policy of the Food business, and considerable progress being made to address the three themes of our member-endorsed Community Plan: inspiring young people, combating climate change and tackling global poverty.
We estimate that at least 100,000 young people in the UK are benefiting from investments being made by The Co-operative. Operating in some of the most deprived wards in England and Wales, The Co-operative Street Games Young Volunteers programme provides young people with the opportunity to develop their sports coaching and community leadership skills. For some, this can even provide a valuable route into paid employment or other youth work. Since it was launched in October 2007, the project has seen 1,150 young volunteers give 27,000 volunteering hours to help develop sport in their local communities.
A major new grants programme launched in 2009, the Truth About Youth, will provide significant financial support for other young people’s initiatives – some £280,000 being made available in each of the Group’s seven democratic regions. Grants were awarded in 2009 to YWCA – a charity working with young disadvantaged women in Cardiff – and to Envision in Birmingham. Grants in each of the remaining regions will be made throughout 2010.
Following its endorsement by members as a key Community Plan theme, we stepped up our commitment to international development in 2009, pledging an additional £1m to tackle global poverty (over and above existing revenue commitments, such as Fairtrade premiums). This funding is being deployed in a number of ways. It will support development uplift projects in communities where we already have a relationship, with a focus on water, sanitation and renewable energy solutions. For example, we recently initiated a project with communities in Malawi that supply our own-brand sugar; providing over 30 boreholes, 1,000 latrines and fuel-efficient stoves to benefit some 10,000 people. Secondly, we are supporting overseas co-operatives, to help people lift themselves out of poverty, with initiatives agreed in 2009 with the Co-operative Travel, Funeralcare and Food businesses. A Co-operative Food project in Kenya, match-funded by the Department for International Development, will help 8,000 smallholder tea farmers to organise together as co-operatives. The project will yield improved marketing opportunities and provide assistance with achieving Fairtrade certification, making farmers eligible to supply tea for The Co-operative’s flagship 99 Fairtrade tea blend.
We estimate that over 500,000 people in the developing world already benefit from the activity of The Co-operative Group each year, with new initiatives increasing this impact further still. We have taken a holistic approach to combating climate change – addressing our direct impacts as a business, investing in renewable energy and energy efficient technologies, funding carbon offset projects and campaigning for change. In 2009, 2,500 Co-operative members and their families joined The Wave, a march in London calling for a safe and fair deal ahead of the United Nations Climate Change summit in Copenhagen. This was the biggest mobilisation of our membership base in recent times and helped make The Wave the largest climate change protest ever held in the UK. We also ensured that the issue of the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, such as Canadian tar sands, was never far from the public eye. Closer to home, our walking buses and Green Energy for Schools programmes continued to be rolled out, with schemes operational at 224 and 185 schools respectively by the end of the year.
Our campaigning activity continues to take our sustainable development approach to a fundamentally different level to that of other businesses. Throughout 2009, we put pressure on Government to support the creation of marine reserves around the UK coast to protect threatened fish stocks. This campaign reached a successful conclusion in November when Parliament legislated to establish a network of marine reserves by 2012. Our commitment to maintaining biodiversity also led us to launch Plan Bee – a 10-point plan to save the honeybee. Through the Group’s support, new research has been made possible. Members have also been mobilised to make their gardens more ‘bee-friendly’, through free wildflower seed giveaways, and a film ‘Vanishing of the bees’ has been distributed in cinemas throughout the UK to highlight the plight of the declining honeybee population.
Our support for films with powerful social responsibility messages saw us also help to bring the Oscar-nominated film ‘Burma VJ’ to a much wider UK audience. The film tracks the brave new breed of young video journalists who put their lives on the line to tell the real story of the 2007 Burmese uprisings and the subsequent repression by the ruling military regime. The Co-operative is adding its voice to the campaign to free the people in the film, who have been incarcerated for filming the uprisings.
Our colleagues and members make a massive contribution to the success of our sustainability and community investment programmes. Their passion for such activity is no better evidenced than by the staggering £3.7m that was raised for 2009’s Charity of the Year, the Royal National
Institute for the Deaf and £3m raised for Somerfield’s charity, Macmillan. This fundraising
effort is in addition to the £11.3m of community investment made by The Co-operative Group in 2009 – some 3.8% of our pre-tax profits – which will support thousands of community initiatives in the UK and overseas.
The merger of The Co-operative Financial Services and Britannia has created a stronger, more diverse, co-operative offering in the financial services industry. The Co-operative Bank’s Ethical Policy was relaunched in early 2009 with a series of new agenda-shaping banking positions that further cement the bank’s commitment to international development, animal welfare and the environment. This ground breaking Policy now extends across the Britannia business. In 2009, 43 finance opportunities were found to be in conflict with the Policy and were, therefore, turned away by the bank, whilst commercial lending continued to grow. The launch of two new funds by Co-operative Investments responded to market demand for lower-risk investments in sustainable businesses, and greatly expands our offering to the responsible investor.
Our commitment to ecological sustainability did not wane as we brought several businesses into The Co-operative Group family. Alongside the enormous amount of behind the scenes work that took place to ensure we remain at the vanguard of ecologically-responsible businesses, we progressed significant new packaging reduction initiatives, such that we met our 15% packaging reduction target by the end of 2009 – a year ahead of schedule. We also made a concerted effort to reduce the number of plastic bags given away to customers – recording a 60% reduction on 2006 levels at the end of the year. Our range of sustainably-sourced fish was expanded, with the addition of four new products taking the total number of Marine Stewardship Council-certified products from 14 to 18.
Our approach to marine stewardship also saw The Co-operative Food emerging first amongst eight retailers in the Marine Conservation Society’s 2009 Supermarket survey. Alongside our efforts to stock responsibly-sourced fish, we were praised for our campaigning work for marine reserves and the financial support provided to enable UK fisheries to become more sustainable.
Animal welfare remained a Food Ethical Policy priority in 2009. We extended the range of products accredited to the higher welfare Co-operative Elmwood chicken standard and introduced Elmwood turkey products; adapting some 151 supplier farms to meet the standards. All premium range own-brand Christmas turkey products were ‘Reared by Us’ sourced from free-range traditional bronze turkeys reared by our farms. We converted our entire range of own-brand pre-packed bacon and gammon to British, in an initiative that raises animal welfare standards, whilst supporting 300 British pig farmers. We also sought to ensure that all our premium own-brand Truly Irresistible fresh pork, bacon and sausages would be made using RSPCA Freedom Food-accredited, outdoor-reared Hampshire breed pork, and have developed Elmwood pig meat standards for introduction into the rest of our own-brand pork and sausage range in 2010.