The Co-operative Group, owned by over eight million members, is the U.K.’s largest mutual business. It operates 4,500 retail outlets and employs almost 87,000 people. It is a major food retailer, the largest funerals provider in the country, and a general insurance business and legal services provider. However, in spite of such a strong profile, the last year has been described as the ‘worst year in its history’. Apart from its financial losses it has faced embarrassment and a dent to its ethical reputation when its former chairman, Paul Flowers was arrested for possessing drugs. He has since pleaded guilty.
Now, the Co-operative Group has just released its latest Sustainability Report, which reflects the transition the Group has been going through as it moves forward from the events of 2013 with a clear focus on a new purpose and strategy. Jonathon Porritt, report commentator, says, “There has been a lot of pain and bewilderment around The Co-operative, but the heart and soul of The Co-operative Group is alive and well… here in these pages, and in the promise for 2014 and beyond.”
Against such a challenging backdrop the Group has remained committed to reporting on its sustainability performance in an open and honest manner and to ensure its reporting has been independent. It has been determined not to lose sight of all the good things that its colleagues, members and customers have continued to deliver on, even in these most extraordinary of times. The Group’s new purpose reflects that how it runs the business, which is more important than merely maximising its profits, and takes the organisation back to its roots—the very reason why it developed a co-operative approach.
It has managed to deliver a worthy performance, from a £15.7m invested in U.K. communities to 1.5m young people benefitting through its Inspiring Young People programme to the sales of Fairtrade products increasing to £140m benefiting 225,000 people. Plus, it reports a 45 percent reduction in direct green-house-gas emissions since 2006; 72 percent of waste reused/recycled and is on track to achieve zero waste to landfill. It seems the darkest hours are now behind the Group with a calm settling over the organisation.
It now has a framework for change that will make the business stronger. Its Sustainability Report highlights that this could be one of the biggest and best turnarounds in U.K. corporate history. The Co-operative Group is very similar to a rising phoenix from the ashes of controversy and financial mismanagement.
Photo Credit: The Co-operative website’s media page
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