Meet the Sustainability Leader: Co-op – Sustainability Reporting 2018

With entries now open for edie's revamped 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards, this new feature series will showcase the achievements of the 2018 winners, revealing their secrets to success. Up next: our 2018 Sustainability Reporting winners, Co-op.

For the Co-op, it is not just building the sustainability report that matters, but also how the message is spread. As anyone can become a member of the company, the Co-op realised that its ethics and sustainability journey should be available and understood by anyone.

“Winning the edie Sustainability Leaders Award was a great achievement for Co-op, especially in such a competitive shortlist,” a spokesperson told edie. “We’re committed to open and honest reporting of our ethical and sustainability performance so it’s fantastic to have this recognition and we’re very proud of the award.”

The company overhauled the look and feel of its latest sustainability report. Input from stakeholders via an online forum noted that some wanted a lighter read with optional access to detailed data. With this in mind, the Co-op split its reporting, issuing its sustainability story up front but also offering the numbers and stats in a separate Performance Data report.

The first part of the report was designed as a vehicle for communication, outlining how the Co-op is looking beyond merely maximising profits. This year’s iteration of the report was launched four months earlier than previously, at an AGM attended by 1,000 members.

Externally, videos, in-store radio adverts, till screen displays, HR inductions, digital billboards, press ads, global campaign platforms and agriculture show stands have all been used to generate report downloads that are five times higher, year on year.

Each section of the report covers a material issue for the Co-op. As an example, sections on the environment, which break down operational and value chain impacts on climate change, waste, water and biodiversity, are presented through narratives and graphs, making it easier for readers to digest.

For 2017, the Co-op refined its target-setting process and decided to reduce the overall number to focus on a smaller set, but a set which aligned with the business strategy and integral business operations.

A variety of stakeholders were involved in the creation of this report from its outset. The Co-op Way Policy Committee undertook a prioritisation process for the report. The Committee, which is chaired by the chief executive and consists of other executives, were engaged in setting the materiality process as well as scrutinising the report. Setting the materiality priorities was shaped over the course of a year and utilised the thoughts of leaders across the business, including elected members from the Co-op Members’ Council. This ensured that all aspects of the business were aware of the key issues the company wanted to tackle.

In total, the report covers nine material issues, including ethical trade, resource use, the environment and colleague wellbeing. External experts such as Forum for the Future also provided advice and opinions on impacts and approach.

SDG analysis

The Co-op reports against the GRI core framework and has worked to update its progress as to how it is performing against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report uses four years’ worth of data where possible to promote transparency and highlight long-term trends.

In fact, transparency is one of the key aspects of the Coop’s report. The company sets its performance data against sector benchmarks or against UK national averages, even when it is performing below the benchmark. Not only does this give stakeholders valuable and honest information, but it allows them to liaise with the Co-op to implement potential improvement measures.

The Co-op has strived to implement an honest approach to reporting. As an example, the company provided £1.7m to the Co-operative Movement, and community investment reached £10.8m – stats have since been broken down to show how and where the money was spent.

The company also provided transparent information on its waste generated from operations, which saw an increase in 2016, an outlier against previous years. By providing the transparent information, the Co-op was able to establish a dedicated working group to tackle the issue.

Much of this detail is listed in the Performance Data aspect of the report. This includes almost 100 datasets, which chart year-on-year results and progress that give stakeholders insight into the trajectory of progress against certain targets.

All data found in the report, including narrative and targets that are in scope, and several key performance indicators like Fairtrade sourcing, greenhouse gas emissions, waste generated and community investment, all undergo rigorous checks and examinations.

These checks, known as deep dives, give stakeholders assurances over the reliability of the report. An assurance statement is also included as part of the report, and is also available online.

What the judges said: “The Co-op Way Report 2016 is excellent from start to finish. It’s well laid out, it tells the firm’s story in great detail, and it makes that story thoroughly readable and engaging.”

edie’s 2019 Sustainability Leaders Award

Now in their 12th year, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards have undergone a major revamp, with a host of new categories and judges, a new Awards venue, and a new Mission Possible theme – making 6 February 2019 the biggest night of the sustainable business calendar.

The entry deadline for the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday, 14 September 2018. The Awards will then take place on the night of 6 February 2019 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 


edie staff

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