What makes a sustainability leader? Meet the Business of the Year the Midcounties Co-operative

With the entry deadline for edie's 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards less than a month away, this series showcases the achievements of previous winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: Winner of our Business of the Year award, the Midcounties Co-operative.

What makes a sustainability leader? Meet the Business of the Year the Midcounties Co-operative

Midcounties Co-op is one of the largest consumer co-operatives in the UK, part of the global co-operative movement of more than three million Co-ops. With its 700,000 member-owners, Midcounties is championing sustainable development across its operations. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the business launched its Community Energy Fund, which provided much-needed support to community energy groups to continue the development of their renewable energy projects. It also launched community restart funds for local charities and foodbanks, providing more than £100k to 100 community groups to help communities re-build.

To champion sustainable development during the pandemic, Midcounties has been involved in a range of best practice sharing, including presenting at a UN event encouraging co-ops around the world to further embed the principle of climate action and support the UN SDGs. More recently the business’ chief executive presented on its approach to supporting sustainable communities at the Association of Convenience Stores conference.

Midcounties is the first Co-operative to employ a chief values officer (CVO), reporting directly to the CEO to ensure the business champions co-operative values and UN SDGs. Reporting into the CVO, the CSR Manager drives the sustainability actions day to day working with the business’ colleagues and members to minimise its environmental impact and develop sustainable communities.

To drive this forward and further embed sustainability, Midcounties has recently employed a chief operating officer for utilities. She has extensive experience of working in renewable energy, including Social Energy which brings renewable generation and storage into the domestic market, giving customers the power to store, earn and trade their energy. This expertise will enable Midcounties to build its legacy of community energy.

Feedback from members found that climate change, tackling single-use plastics, reducing waste, supporting renewable energy, and reducing carbon emissions are key issues they want Midcounties to focus on. In response to this, the business launched its Community Power Tariff through its Co-op Energy joint venture.

The JV works with 90 community energy groups across the country to provide the UK’s only tariff 100% powered by community-run green energy projects. The initiative helps drive the green economy, while taking the pressure of the national grid and reducing reliance on depleting fossil fuels. Currently, the Community Power tariff generates enough energy to power around 20,000 homes.

As well as taking great steps in providing renewable energy, in the past 10 years Midcounties has increased its recycling rates from 21% in 2010 to 99% currently, diverting 3,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. To help the business achieve this, all of the food waste from its food stores goes to anaerobic digestion, producing enough renewable energy to power 40 homes a year.

Over the past year, the business has reduced the total amount of waste produced across its operations by 4%. This has included delivering innovations to reduce food waste, such as its food stores to help it better predict daily food waste and amend its ordering accordingly. The business has also introduced a ‘Too Good to Waste’ scheme in its food stores, which allows qualifying products to be available for a period after the best before date.

Midcounties has also driven a range of further innovations to tackle single-use plastics across its operations, and it is reducing around two tonnes of plastic per year through its direct operations. Working with other Co-op retailers, the business has reduced over 1,000 tonnes of single-use plastic across own-brand products in food stores. As a specific example of innovation in this area, Midcounties has replaced single-use plastic carrier bags with compostable bags in all 220 of its food stores, cutting out eight million plastic bags per year.

The business has continued to save energy in the workplace, and, over the past year, it has reduced energy usage across its operations by 3%, saving 1,000 tonnes of CO2.

To further engage its stakeholders, Midcounties launched an innovative campaign called 1 Change, in which the business engaged its members to make climate change pledges and connected these pledge ideas to create collaborative projects to drive forward sustainable communities.

Using around 1,000 1 Change pledges made by members, Midcounties mobilised its 20 regional communities to take action by connecting its members, colleagues and communities. A notable project to come out of the campaign was the creation of 1,000 eco-bricks, which were used to build a turkey shed, in collaboration with Midcounties’ community partner Fairy Tale Farm in the Cotswolds. Midcounties is the first UK retailer to offer this innovative solution through eco-bricks.

The edie judges said: The Midcounties Co-operative encapsulates what it means to drive a green, just recovery from Covid-19. From the Community Energy Fund it has operated throughout the pandemic, to the community restart funds it has escalated to support foodbanks and charities – all whilst improving its own environmental performance and championing a positive, collaborative approach to sustainable business. The organisation has put in an outstanding effort across the board and is thoroughly deserving of our coveted title of Business of the Year for 2021.”

Are you our next winner?

After a tough and extraordinary year, edie’s RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are back for 2022, bigger and better than ever – celebrating the incredible people, projects and partnerships that are accelerating climate action and transforming business, for good. 

Entries are now OPEN. The submission deadline for the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday 1 October 2021. The Awards is then set to take place as a live ceremony on the night of Wednesday 2 February 2022 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 

Our ‘Sustainability Leader of the Year’ category is among the 23 categories to choose from. Make sure you get the recognition you, and your team, deserve. ENTER THE SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS AWARDS 2022 HERE.

edie staff

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