Tag: 2012 International Year of the Co-op

  • Board Notes: The Co-op Triple Bottom Line | 07.19.2013

    THE “2020 CHALLENGE” – This is the 3rd in a series of articles dedicated to the “2020 Challenge”.  The 2012 Year of the Co-op came to an end but in the eyes of the International Co-operative Alliance, 2012 marked the beginning of the “2020 Challenge”. The “2020 Challenge” is simple:

    • Co-operatives will lead in economic, social and environmental sustainability, and
    • Co-ops will be the preferred model for business, and
    • Co-ops will be the fastest growing form of enterprise.

    The starting point for this “2020 Challenge” is the powerful claim which co-ops make to the outside world – we have a way of doing business that is better than most. We give individuals active participation through ownership, making them more engaged in the success of the co-op. And the co-op business model creates greater economic, social and environmental sustainability.

    There are 5 interlinked themes that will make this decade of the co-op successful:

    1) Elevate participation within membership and governance to a new level.
    2) Position co-ops as builders of sustainability.
    3) Build the co-operative message and secure the co-operative identify.
    4) Ensure supportive legal frameworks for co-operative growth.
    5) Secure reliable co-operative capital while guaranteeing member control.

     

    Building Sustainability
    Although there are some local exceptions, at present sustainability is not a term that is universally associated with co-operatives. This needs to change by 2020. The co-op movement needs to demonstrate a deep commitment to sustainability, as well as its positive contribution to sustainability in 3 senses – economic, social and environmental. In the sustainable world, having a focus on these 3 senses is often referred to as the “Triple Bottom Line” concept – profit, people and place. Contrast this with the “Single Bottom Line” concept of all other business models – profit. Co-ops have always set out to enable people to have access to goods and services without exploitation. This means trading in accordance with a set of values that believe in the “triple bottom line” approach. By placing human need at the center, co-ops seek to optimize outcomes for a range of stakeholders rather than maximizing the benefit of any single stakeholder.

    So how do we go about measuring the value we produce with our “Triple Bottom Line” approach?

    Economic sustainability (profit)
    There is evidence that a diversity of ownership contributes to a more stable financial sector. The investor-owned company was central to how the financial crisis occurred, with managers acting in the interests of themselves and a very small number of stakeholders. Contrast this with co-operatives. We act in the interests of our members, pursuing value for everyone and making us intrinsically less risky. Take the example of co-op banks and credit unions.  They have never made headlines for causing a financial crisis – in fact, most have quietly grown and prospered because of the co-op business model.

    Social Sustainability (people)
    Among the negative externalities generated by contemporary capitalism are social problems associated with inequities. The study of social capital suggests that societies with higher levels of membership associations do better economically, enjoying higher levels of trust and democratic participation. Co-ops contribute to the stock of a nation’s social capital in ways that traditional businesses do not. The United Nations, for example, urges governments to encourage and facilitate the establishment and development of co-ops, including taking measures aimed at enabling people living in poverty or belonging to vulnerable groups to engage on a voluntary basis in the creation and development of co-ops.

    Environmental Sustainability (place)
    There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that co-ops have a superior environmental record. Much of this is due to the co-op business model and the concerns for the future environmental outcomes. We are less focused on calculating a return on investment and more focused on the greater good (the “Triple Bottom Line”.)

    All of this discussion around sustainability is great but it won’t serve us well unless we help others understand the importance of the “Triple Bottom Line”. As a co-op, we have much to gain from seizing our approach and demonstrating its positive impact. We need to step up to the challenge of advocating for and demonstrating the value of our “Triple Bottom Line” to attract interest from the broader public, policy makers and young people. We need to work closer with other co-op businesses in our market to reinforce the sustainability of the co-op business model. As a board, we will be much more proactive in helping everyone to understand the “Triple Bottom Line”. As a member, you should be as well.

    Next – building the co-operative message and securing the co-operative identify.

    Carol BeamCarol Beam is the president of GEM’s Board of Directors.

     


  • Board Notes: “The 2020 Challenge” Part 2 | 05.13.2013

    As I noted in the last article, the 2012 Year of the Co-op has come to an end, but in the eyes of the International Co-operative Alliance, 2012 marked the beginning of the “2020 Challenge”.  The “2020 Challenge” is simple:

    • Co-operatives will lead in economic, social and environmental sustainability and
    • Co-ops will be the preferred model for business and
    • Co-ops will be the fastest growing form of enterprise.

    The starting point for this “2020 Challenge” is the powerful claim which co-ops make to the outside world – we have a way of doing business that is better than most.  We give individuals active participation through ownership, making them more engaged in the success of the co-op.  And the co-op business model creates greater economic, social and environmental sustainability.

    There are 5 interlinked themes that will make this decade of the co-op successful:
    1)      Elevate participation within membership and governance to a new level.
    2)      Position co-ops as builders of sustainability.
    3)      Build the co-operative message and secure the co-operative identity.
    4)      Ensure supportive legal frameworks for co-operative growth.
    5)      Secure reliable co-operative capital while guaranteeing member control.

    Elevating Participation
    Democratic member participation is the best know feature of the co-operative way of doing business and a major part of what characterizes a co-operative in contrast to traditional businesses.  The individual member has a role to play in a co-op which goes beyond the basic economic relationship of customer, worker or producer.

    Collectively, members own their co-ops and therefore participate in the governance.  Individually, members have a right to information, they have a right to a voice and they have a right to representation.

    There is good evidence to suggest that providing consumers and workers with a voice inside an organization produces better, more intelligent and responsive forms of business.  The social pioneers who established co-ops over previous centuries had a clear vision – they could see that by getting people to collaborate and work together, they could meet both their individual needs and their collective needs (i.e., access to goods and services).

    But the contemporary consumer world of developed economies is very different than it was when co-ops were founded.  Co-ops started because there was a lack of access to goods and services.  Now there is an over abundance of access to goods and services, making us somewhat complacent and less likely to become “active” participants in much of what we do.  If you are over the age of 50, think about the organizations where you and your parents were active members.  Many of them are gone, and many more are slowing fading into the sunset.

    As a co-op business model, we must continue to rely on active membership to differentiate us from other forms of business.  But let’s face it, the expectations people have (especially younger people) to participation in a membership organization have changed dramatically – looser networked forms of associations are the norm and the division between “member” and “non-member” is less clearly defined.

    A Whole Different Way
    This new reality cannot and must not cause us to abandon our focus on membership.  What we need to do is change the way we think about membership and member engagement.  We need to elevate the participation of membership through totally different channels.  This will mean more than just “liking” us on Facebook.  It will mean developing systems and initiatives that engage members (especially younger members) in comment, conversation, debate and decision making a whole different way.

    I am not sure what the “whole different way” looks like, but I know that GEM has access to resources that are going to help us understand what other co-ops are doing to engage members in a “whole different way”.  The “Challenge 2020” project is already working on finding successful new ways of giving every member a voice – the way they are used to having a voice – so they feel connected and engaged.  Because at the end of the day, the co-op relies on its members to make it successful.  And the only way we will Carol Beamcontinue to grow is by growing our membership – that means engaging members with different interests in different ways than we do today.

    Do you have thoughts on how you would like to have your voice heard?  How do you engage with others today and would you engage with GEM the same way if you could?  I would love to hear from you to better understand how we can better meet your needs as a member to keep you informed, keep you active and keep you engaged.  You can call me at (406) 248-1512, or email.

    Thank you for any thoughts you have on this month’s topic or on the series of topics.  In the next article, we will look at positioning co-ops as builders of sustainability.

    Carol Beam is the President of the Board of Directors


  • Board Notes: The 2020 Challenge | 03.29.2013

    The Year of the Co-op, 2012, has come to an end but in the eyes of the International Co-operative Alliance 2012 marked the beginning of the “2020 Challenge”.  The “2020 Challenge” is simple:

    • Co-operatives will lead in economic, social and environmental sustainability and
    • Co-ops will be the preferred model for business and
    • Co-ops will be the fastest growing form of enterprise.

    The starting point for this “2020 Challenge” is the powerful claim which co-ops make to the outside world – we have a way of doing business that is better than most.  We give individuals active participation through ownership, making them more engaged in the success of the co-op.  And the co-op business model creates greater economic, social and environmental sustainability.

    There are 5 interlinked themes that will make this decade of the co-op successful:
    1)      Elevate participation within membership and governance to a new level.
    2)      Position co-ops as builders of sustainability.
    3)      Build the co-operative message and secure the co-operative identify.
    4)      Ensure supportive legal frameworks for co-operative growth.
    5)      Secure reliable co-operative capital while guaranteeing member control.

    Over the course of the next 5 articles, my column will focus on each of these interlinked themes to help us all understand more about ourselves and begin to elevate our thinking to truly embrace the “2020 Challenge”.  Next article will focus on elevating participation.

    In the meantime, you have many opportunities to elevate your participation in your co-op.  You can attend one or more of the many workshops that are offered each month.   And don’t forget to check out the working member opportunities board (near the restrooms).

    One of the unique things about being a co-op is that we are all much more than just shoppers – we are vested owners.  Perhaps each of us should take our own “2020 Challenge” and decide how we can each be a better co-op member.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

    Carol Beam, Board of Directors President

    Carol Beam is the President of the Board of Directors.  Feedback?  Contact Carol!


  • Hardware Co-ops Help Revitalize Neighborhoods | 12.27.2012

    Revitalized homes in Logan Circle

    Logan Circle is a storied neighborhood in Washington, DC enjoying an urban renaissance; and Gina Schaefer, proprietor of the Logan Circle ACE Hardware is part of it.  Logan Circle is remarkable for its stock of Victorian row houses, many of which are now on the National Register of Historic Places. However, in the hundred years in between when Logan Circle was established and now, the area fell on hard times and experienced the fallout from the 1968 Washington, DC riots. The neighborhood’s Victorians got subdivided into apartments and rooming houses, and the area became derelict and unsafe. About a decade ago, people began to see the value in restoring these properties, and Logan Circle has once again become an attractive place to live.

    Schaefer was driven to do something for a neighborhood in the process of rebuilding. In the urban core of Washington, DC, hardware stores are few and far between. People in the district’s neighborhoods need a hardware store that can cater to the specific needs of hundred-year-old homes and fixer-uppers. Schaefer believed she could make the most of the chance to serve this community by joining the retail hardware co-op ACE Hardware.

    Hardware is a very competitive business; the big box chain Home Depot did $68 billion in sales last year alone.  Being part of a cooperative makes it possible for small scale, locally-based owners to compete. There are three hardware co-ops headquartered in the United States: ACE Hardware, Do It Best, and True Value Hardware.  ACE Hardware is the largest with 4,600 member stores in 60 countries, Do it Best has 4,100 stores in 47 countries, and True Value has 4,700 retails in the U.S. Combined, the three hardware co-ops do $18 billion in annual sales.  They are all organized as retail cooperatives that provide members technical assistance and competitive pricing through their mutually-owned warehouses and distribution channels.

    “I figured that by joining a co-op I’d get more support getting started,” Schaefer said. “I liked the fact that they have regional and district support people who could answer questions.”  She believes the ideas she’s gotten from ACE have helped her grow and be a better retailer.

    Another significant benefit of being part of the ACE co-op is being able to network with other hardware store owners in the U.S.and even abroad.  Currently, Schaefer is in her second term as an active member of the ACE board of directors and she appreciates the opportunity to continue to learn from and give back to other members of her co-op.

    Today, Schaefer operates five neighborhood hardware stores located throughout Washington, DC, and two in Baltimore, MD, all with the same dedication to serve their local communities. Customers like knowing her stores are part of the ACE co-op because many of them specifically want to support co-ops and local enterprises, be it a food co-op, restaurant or an independent bookstore.  Schaefer thinks that this approach to supporting the local economy is a strong factor in Logan Circle’s revitalization. “It’s why we are growing so much,” she said.

    Reposted by permission from StrongerTogether.coop. Find articles about your food and where it comes from, recipes and a whole lot more at www.strongertogether.coop.


     


  • Values in Action Everyday | 11.08.2012

    We are proud to be part of a movement that proves respecting people is good for business. Millions of consumers around the globe have joined cooperatives for many reasons, including finding that they fill a need for housing, electricity, food, insurance and financial services…the list is endless. What attracts people to cooperation is that their co-ops operate on their behalf with honesty, fairness and transparency—they are based on values not unlike those people aspire to for themselves: self-responsibility, democracy, equality, and social responsibility (www.ica.coop). In the United States, 30,000 co-ops provide two million jobs, and one of every four people is a member of a cooperative.

    These values connect us. Co-ops foster real relationships with their customers by providing service rooted in community. It’s all about trust. For example, at Just Food in Northfield, Minn. they actively support and seek out local farmers such as L & R Poultry and Produce (see more about them in the Celebrity Farmers video), wherein they have a handshake agreement to buy their products each season. The farmers know that the co-op will keep its word, and Just Food shoppers can expect the highest-quality food grown with integrity. At food co-ops, it’s not uncommon for customers to know the real people who stand behind the products available.

    Co-op Values in ActionsCooperative values also transcend co-op size. It doesn’t matter whether your cooperative is so large that it employs thousands of people, or so small you can fit everyone involved in a single room; co-op values remain the same.

    The outdoor adventure retailer REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) is the largest consumer co-op inAmericawith 4.4 million members. Their size allows them to act on their ideals in places all across the country. This has a big impact. In addition to adhering to the stated co-op values, they also take them one step further by actively protecting the environment. That’s what co-ops do. They strive to go above and beyond to do what’s right. At REI, how they operate their stores, the products they carry, and the millions of dollars they have donated to safeguard forests, lakes and prairies, have the end goal of preserving natural spaces and keeping the earth a better place for everyone.

    The food co-ops that make up the National Cooperative Grocers Association (the organization behind this site) have over 1.3 million members across a “virtual chain” of over 120 retail food co-ops nationwide. Collectively, food co-ops have a strong social and economic impact. They work with an average of 157 local farmers and producers (compared with 65 for conventional grocers). They contribute to the community with high levels of charitable giving, an average of 13% (compared to 4% for conventional grocers). Plus food co-ops generate more money for their local economy—1.5 times more than conventional grocers. Find more info on how food co-ops do things differently and the impact they have in our Healthy Foods Healthy Communities post.

    Co-ops demonstrate their commitment to ethics by extending them in an ever widening circle. When a co-op makes a profit, you can be assured it was gained through fair business practices, and in most cases, any surplus is reinvested in the co-op or shared equitably among member-owners.

    Some of those co-op value circles start very small and grow into greater influence, changing lives in the process. Four years ago in Whatcom County in Washington state, four women got together to start the Circle of Life Caregiver Co-op.  Theirs is a worker-owned health care co-op dedicated to excellent home care for the elderly and disabled.  In an industry rife with low-pay and apathy towards clients, Circle of Life offers a refreshing alternative, where self-help provides everyone with more options.  

    We know none of the great things co-ops accomplish would be possible without the people worldwide who use co-ops to meet their needs. This year, co-ops are celebrating with us the United Nations declaration of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. We are thrilled by the international recognition of co-ops’ fundamental values: that making people and communities our top priority is good business.


  • Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities | 08.22.2012

    Do you love your co-op?  Turns out the store you own does more than just sell good food – across the nation, cooperatives are making a big impact in their communities!  A new study on food co-ops, Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops*, quantifies the impact co-ops have compared to conventional grocery stores. The study’s compelling results demonstrate the many ways that cooperative businesses like Good Earth Market do well while doing good.

    Unlike their conventional counterparts, co-ops are owned and governed by member-shoppers and rooted in principles like community, voluntary and open membership, economic participation and cooperation. Because of these principles and practices, food co-ops inherently serve and benefit the communities where they are located. For example, the study finds that for every dollar spent at a food co-op, $0.38 is reinvested in the local economy compared to $0.24 at conventional grocers.

    Good Earth Market is one of NCGA’s 128 member and associate co-ops that in aggregate operate 165 stores, generate more than $1.4 billion in annual revenue, and are owned by 1.3 million consumers. Individually, co-ops serve the distinct needs of communities like the Yellowstone Valley. Together, co-ops have the purchasing power to rival conventional grocery chains, and the good business practices to truly make the world a better place.

    I Shop at the Co-op because...Supporting Local Food Systems and Sustainable Foods
    Though “local” has popped up in conventional grocery stores in recent years, retail food co-ops are leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. Where conventional grocers work with an average of 65 local farmers and other local producers, food co-ops work with an average of 157. Likewise, locally sourced products make up an average of 20 percent of co-op sales compared to 6 percent at conventional stores.

    Years after creating the market for organic foods, co-ops are still the place to find them. Of produce sales at food co-ops, 82 percent are organic, compared to 12 percent for conventional grocers. Organics make up 48 percent of grocery sales in food co-ops, compared to just 2 percent in conventional grocers.

    Local Economic Impact
    The economic impact that a grocery store has on its local economy is greater than just the sum of its local spending, because a portion of money spent locally recirculates. Food co-ops purchase from local farmers who, in turn, buy supplies from local sources, hire local technicians to repair equipment and purchase goods and services from local retailers. To some extent, conventional grocers do too, but the gap is still significant. For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy – $239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.

    Employee Benefits
    The average co-op earning $10 million per year in revenue provides jobs for over 90 workers. In total, 68 percent of those workers are eligible for health insurance, compared to 56 percent of employees at conventional grocers. Co-op employees also earn an average of nearly $1.00 more per hour than conventional grocery workers when bonuses and profit sharing are taken into account.

    Environmental Stewardship
    Grocery stores – co-ops and conventional alike – generate a significant amount of waste. What sets retail food co-ops apart is what they do with that waste. Co-ops recycle 96 percent of cardboard, 74 percent of food waste and 81 percent of plastics compared to 91 percent, 36 percent and 29 percent, respectively, recycled by conventional grocers.

    At a co-op grocer, fresh, delicious food is just the beginning.

     

    Impact Report – View the full report in Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops.

    Infographics – View a pdf of the infographics in Healthy Food Healthy Communities Infographics.

    Video – Find the animated video, along with other Co-op related videos on the Stronger Together YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/coopstrongertogether

    *NCGA partnered with the ICA Group – a national not-for-profit research organization – to compile the data used to develop Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops. The ICA Group compiled data from industry and government resources, food cooperative financial data collected by CoopMetrics for NCGA, and previous NCGA surveys. The ICA Group developed two additional surveys, one targeted to retail food co-ops and the other to the conventional grocery industry.

     


  • General Manager’s Comments: The Co-op/Corporate Difference | 07.06.2012

    by Perry McNeese, GEM’s General Manager

    Photo by James Woodcock

    Working with Alicia, GEM’s Marketing Manager, to promote the International Year of the Co-op caused me to stop and think about what it means to be a part of a Cooperative and how it differs for me as a manager.  The difference hit me immediately as I stepped in the General Manager’s position 5 years ago.  I have always believed in strong customer service, but as a Co-op manager I realize that my customer is now the owner!  Yes, the boss, CEO, and share holder all rolled up into one, the shopper!  Therefore fulfilling your needs is not only important, it is a critical part of my performance standing.  If you aren’t happy, I am not doing my job.

    That cuts to what I see as the purpose of a Co-op.  For me, the Co-op’s purpose is to service its owners/members with goods and services that match their reasons for buying into the Co-op in the first place.  Additionally, as this primary objective is met, the management and staff must conduct business in a way that keeps the entity viable and growing in both sales and membership. Thus, our first strategic objective, “Strengthen the Co-op”.  That differs from my conventional corporate experience.  Primary objectives were typically tied to market share, return on investment or share price.  It is much more rewarding to please customers than it is to please Wall Street.

    Our second strategic objective, “Make GEM a Great Place to Work” is also much different from my corporate experience.  As I budget and manage expenses, I am charged with pleasing the employees too?  Oops!  Don’t forget they are all member-owners as well.  So rather than seeing where I can cut labor expense, I am looking at where I can improve rewards and work environment.  As examples, we have added health insurance benefit for full-time employees and employees get 10 to 20 percent discounts.  This is a first for me.  We close major holidays so they can have the day off with their families.  We optimize the use of full-time employees rather than keep them to a minimum.   This job is the very first time I have built wage scales considering the “Living Wage” model and it is rewarding.

    The differences between a Co-op and a corporation continue as one looks at our third objective, “Build the Local Sustainable Foods Economy”.  What!?  I/we have to be concerned about something other than our own growth?  Yep!  We must endeavor to help local producers sell their goods so they too can grow.  By contrast, I used to be trained to see how much I could get from a supplier.  Now I am building relationships and trying to find ways to market more of their produce and meats.  Its fun because my boss, you, also want to have access to more and more local!

    I take pride in another Co-op difference.  This is the first time in my 40 year grocery career that I have worked in an Energy Star facility; our 4th strategic objective is to “Build Environmental Sustainability into the Facility”.  With the improvements that have been made to the building, GEM is now in the 96th percentile for supermarkets around the country.  Ah!  What?  Many of the energy improvements were completed by working members and what a difference it makes.  Yes, our customers, being owners, really do want to see the Co-op succeed and step up to help us in numerous ways from construction to laundry to maintenance projects.  Some members even donate money so we can have a nice patio and, most recently, a new bike rack.

    While I am on strategic objectives, just as well mention the 5th strategic objective, which is to “Increase Community Engagement, Outreach and Education”.  Again, something new to me.  Free workshopsNewsletters that educate rather than sell?  Providing Farmer’s Market space free to producers to sell their goods?

    Seems like everyday I run across a decision that is motivated by what is right verses what is profitable.  Not that being profitable is a bad thing, it just needs to be a means to an end rather than what drives everything.  I have to tell you it makes a guy want to come to work every morning.  I want to thank you for not only reading through my article, but for being the center of what makes GEM a great place in so many ways.  I look forward to continuing to serve you.  The reward is your support!

     


  • 2012 International Year of Cooperatives | 04.23.2012

    Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World

    The United Nations has declared 2012 as International Year of Cooperatives and we, along with co-ops around the world, are celebrating the occasion. Each year, the United Nations seeks to raise awareness of ideas or initiatives that truly make the world a better place. And while we may be a little biased (as a cooperative representing a virtual chain of food co-ops), we’re thrilled about the opportunity to highlight the many benefits cooperatives bring to their communities.  According to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic vitality and social responsibility.”  We couldn’t agree more.

    International Year of Cooperatives was officially launched at the United Nations New York headquarters in October 2011 with the theme, “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World.”  “Cooperation is a real solution for today’s challenges,” said Charles Gould, the director general of the International Cooperative Alliance.  United Nations “year of” designations may come and go, but for cooperatives, the 2012 spotlight represents an opportunity for co-ops to build on their global presence.

    Cooperatives are all around us—in the U.S. and around the world.  More than a billion people are members of cooperatives and the international cooperative movement has a strong global impact. If the world’s cooperatives were a country, it would be the size of Spain, represent $1 trillion in revenues, and rank as the tenth largest Gross Domestic Product in the world.  This economic activity is all the more impressive because it is generated by people working together in a democratic fashion to meet their own needs while benefiting the local economy and the community.  The United Nations’ acknowledgment of the value of cooperatives is important recognition for of the positive contributions co-ops deliver to our nation and our world.

    The cooperative model is a business model that is based on values and focuses on fairness, transparency and democracy. This values-based focus doesn’t mean standard business practices–like efficiency, effectiveness and profitability—take a back seat. Far from it.  Cooperatives seek excellence in all aspects of their business while upholding their values and principles.

    In addition to cooperative values, most cooperatives adopt a set of seven cooperative principles.  The sixth principle, cooperation among co-ops, is one that will be highlighted in 2012 as co-ops celebrate the year together.

    The International Cooperative Alliance has a goal that by 2020, cooperatives will be the fastest-growing business model worldwide. Indicators so far are positive; interest in cooperatives is already growing.  People around the world play an important role in this development by supporting their local co-ops with their investment and patronage, taking part in creating businesses that serve the greater good and build a better world.

    Be sure to check out http://www.stories.coop or www.2012.coop for more information about the world’s cooperatives and their activities, along with the National Cooperative Grocers Assocation Co-op Video Series.

    Article courtesy of www.strongertogether.coop.