How Co-ops Are Responding to Climate Change

By Kenzie Love

As with all businesses, the climate crisis presents a challenge for worker co-ops, and at this point there may be as many questions as there are answers. But here’s a start at understanding some of the issues they face.

How are co-ops uniquely positioned to respond to climate change?

Co-ops’ unique ability to respond to climate change lies in their seven principles. Colin MacDougall of SSG, a co-op that works with cities, campuses, and institutions on climate planning, believes that coops are inherently prone to concern about climate change because of their concern for community, one of the seven principles.

“When you allow democracy to sort of, you know flourish and lead decisions within the organization you’ll find that the type of problems that the organization looks to tackle will broaden a lot more and start to consider a lot more social considerations more than financial considerations,” he says. 

This stands in contrast, he believes, to traditional businesses that are mandated to focus on the bottom line and thus will look to profit from climate change rather than seek to mitigate it.

“Co-ops are uniquely positioned, he says, in that there is actually a membership, a governance drive, in many if not most cases to actually tackle I think the biggest issue, biggest challenge facing humanity today.”

How are co-ops responding to climate change?

For some coops, such as SSG, responding to climate change is central to their mission. MacDougall believes that larger coops, at least, are more likely to embed attention to the environment in their operating philosophy rather than approach it as a series of one-off actions, though he cautions that while this is necessary, it shouldn’t be seen as sufficient.

“If you are a La Siembra, an SSG, a Modo, a Just Us, don’t assume that because it’s baked into your mission that that’s all you need to do,” he says.

 All co-ops, he says, have the ability — indeed, the duty — to take action in reducing their carbon footprint, starting with measuring it. 

“Do make best efforts — and sometimes it is only going to be best efforts — to measure and take an accounting of what your environmental impact is,” he says. 

What barriers exist for co-ops responding more effectively to climate change?

Co-ops in a variety of sectors around the world are already taking action on this front, as outlined in this SSG paper “A Co-operative Solution to Climate Change.” But in Canada, at least, worker co-ops still represent a niche of the economy. MacDougall acknowledges the need for the worker co-op sector to grow for it to have a truly transformative impact.

“I think some very high-profile successes. More Just Us, more La Siembra’s who have a real presence in Canada would inspire other individuals to consider the worker co-op model,” he says.

How can CWCF help worker co-ops address climate change?

“What CWCF can do in that regard is to keep doing what its latest strategic plan says,” says MacDougall, “to focus on creating new co-ops and strengthening existing members, so we can have a few of those shining lights that would attract others to start more co-ops.”

In the meantime, however, existing worker co-ops can benefit from sharing best practices with each other, fulfilling another one of the co-op principles. 

“Sharing and cooperation among cooperatives is a really valuable piece of being a cooperative for us as well,” says Fourth Pig’s Melinda Zytaruk. “One of the things I think would be getting thoughts and reflections from co-ops on is how we can better address climate change, and how we are doing it, and helping facilitate that information sharing and data sharing and strategy sharing among different co-ops.”