September 13, 2008

From Food to Finance: Covering All Angles in the Push to Turn Green

By Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan says that there is no doing things by halves should you decide to make your business environmentally friendly

The Co-operative, which sponsors this year's Climate Clinic, was one of first UK businesses to recognise the need to significantly cut its carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption in order to help tackle climate change.

The Co-operative, which has interests in food, funerals, travel, pharmacy and financial and legal services, has made significant carbon dioxide savings but realises there is more to be done.

With a turnover of more than 10 billion, the group, which operates 4,200 outlets and employs 81,000 staff, first purchased green electricity in 1997 and now 99 per cent of its power is obtained from renewable sources.

This is not an insignificant amount - in 2007, The Co-operative used 890 gigawatt hours of green electricity, the equivalent of the domestic needs of a city like Edinburgh or Sheffield.

Not content with just buying it from others, the group aims to generate 15 per cent of its energy requirements from its own renewable sources by 2012. It has already begun to deliver on this target through its eight-turbine wind farm in Coldham, Cambridgeshire and the group is working to develop two other wind farms on its own land.

In addition, the group has committed to reducing its electricity and gas consumption by 25 per cent by 2012 and has initiated a 18m five-year energy efficiency programme to ensure it achieves this target.

The group also supports microgeneration and is developing smaller scale renewable energy projects across its estate. One of the most high-profile schemes was the Solar Tower Project which transformed the 122m (400ft), 25-storey landmark Co-operative Insurance Tower through the installation of more than 7,000 solar panels. In the wider community, the group has committed 2m to its innovative Green Energy for Schools scheme that enables schools to install photovoltaic solar panels at no cost. The group funds 50 per cent of the cost of the panels, with the remaining 50 per cent coming from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme.

The first 100 schools have received solar panels and the group is seeking nominations to help a further 60 schools. The scheme has also been extended to include the installation of small wind turbines, biomass boilers and groundsource heat pumps at a number of pilot schools. The group also recognises that in its role as a retailer it can also help to reduce energy use.

Last year, The Co-operative food division pledged to start phasing out the sale of tungsten incandescent light bulbs at 50 stores as a pilot programme, with a view to phasing out their sale completely across all stores by the end of 2010.

The commitment of Co-operative Financial Services to the environment extends beyond its own products and services. Since 1998, as part of its well-known ethical policy, the Co-operative Bank has not invested in any organisation whose core activity contributes to global climate change through the extraction and production of fossil fuels

In 2006 and 2007, as part of its Customers Who Care campaign, the bank and its customers teamed up with Friends of the Earth for the Big Ask campaign, calling on the Government to introduce a strong climate change Bill.

In July this year, CFS turned the spotlight on the issue of unconventional fossil fuels when, in conjunction with WWF, it published a hard-hitting report highlighting the environmental and economic dangers of extracting oil from shale and sand.

CFS is committed to mobilising its six million customers to help lobby Europe for the introduction of legislation similar to the Emissions Standard in California, thereby prohibiting the sale of fuels with higher emissions than traditional oil.

Paul Monaghan is the head of social goals and sustainability at The Co-operative Group

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