The Co-operative Group wins Environmental Leadership Award

July 07, 2009

The Co-operative Group and Supreme Creations, the supplier of the supermarket’s reusable Fairtrade cotton bags, have been recognised at the UK’s top responsible business awards.

The two organisations were honoured for their commitment to and leadership on environmental and supply chain issues by HRH The Prince of Wales at Business in the Community’s (BITC) annual Awards for Excellence event last night.

The Co-operative became the first UK supermarket to launch a Fairtrade cotton shopping bag

The Co-operative Group, the UK's largest mutual retailer, received the Environmental Leadership Award for its innovative approach to managing the environmental impacts of its business.  The Group’s environmental strategy reaches across its operations, from food to financial services, enabling the organisation to lead the way by committing to voluntary initiatives to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, and coming up with innovative solutions to issues, such as building wind farms on its own land and “Plan Bee” to help reverse the decline in the UK’s bee population.

Supreme Creations, the world’s largest ethical manufacturer of environmentally friendly bags and packaging, picked up the BITC Supply Chain Award for its pioneering product development, and commitment to creating secure working conditions and sustainable communities. “Bags for Life” are now a common sight on the high street as millions of environmentally aware shoppers have switched from plastic bags. The Supreme Creations bags produced in South India have also created a new sustainable source of income for the communities that make them. At its manufacturing base Supreme employs over 2,000 workers, 90% of whom are women earning 33% more than the average amount paid to machinists in India. The British High Commissioner to India has lauded Supreme’s work as an exemplar for all global supply chain organisations.

Working with Supreme Creations, The Co-operative became the first UK supermarket to launch a Fairtrade cotton shopping bag. In January 2009, the retailer reported a 45% reduction in single-use plastic carrier bags distributed to customers for 2008 compared to 2006.  This is in line with its commitment to cut single-use plastic bags by 50% by the end of May 2009, as part of the Government-backed voluntary agreement managed by WRAP, which will be reporting on industry progress later this month.         

The partnership between The Co-operative and Supreme Creations also allowed both organisations to commit to helping build a new school with the Wings of Hope Children’s Charity, in India, through the sale of the Fairtrade bags. To date, just over £75,000 has been donated to the charity.

Paul Kelly, Corporate Affairs Director of Asda, which sponsored the Environmental Leadership Award, said: “Asda are proud to support this year’s Environmental Leadership Award to recognise companies demonstrating leadership and improved impact by embedding environmental strategy into core business processes.  As Chair of the judging panel, I congratulate The Co-operative Group for their achievement as Example of Excellence. The company has demonstrated that sustainability can be fully embedded into the business model and beyond. From ensuring its own operations are environmentally sound to investing in low carbon products, and addressing 'hotpoints' in the supply chain to engaging with its membership base, The Co-operative Group has taken risks in order to drive environmental excellence on a huge scale.”

Peter Marks, Group Chief Executive, The Co-operative Group, said: “Despite the current economic climate, there will be no let up from The Co-operative in terms of our commitment to addressing environmental issues.  As well as reducing the environmental impact of each of our businesses, the breadth of our activity ranges from supporting fish sustainability by funding new UK fisheries through the MSC-certification process to a £2m investment in green energy for schools.”

Supreme’s business and social objectives are inextricably linked. Supreme has demonstrated that embedding ethical behaviour throughout a company can bring significant business benefits. Since 2006, Supreme has grown exponentially, with a 350% growth in sales, and 900% increase in its workforce. Further, through the production of the Fairtrade cotton bags, The Co-operative and Supreme have helped generate an extra £360,000 in income for the cotton farming communities in India. On the environmental front, WRAP figures show that plastic bag usage has reduced from 13.4bn to 9.9bn bags between 2007 and 2008.  By working with The Co-operative and other leading UK high-street retailers, Supreme has played a significant part in this reduction.

Amur S Lakshminarayanan Vice President and Head - Europe, Tata Consultancy Services and Chair of judges for the Supply Chain award said: “Supreme Creation’s entire business of eco friendly bags has Fairtrade supply chain values at its core. The organisation’s determination to pay a fair amount to suppliers, to support and train cotton farmers and workers, has enabled Supreme to differentiate its business and add value to retailers and help consumers to make sustainable choices.”

Dr. R Sri Ram, Chairman of Supreme Creations, said: “I feel so honoured that a small company like mine is being recognised as a “National Example of Excellence” – it just goes to show that businesses underpinned by ethical foundations can create a win-win situation. This is an immediate and efficient way of tackling the environmental problem we all face today.”