By Kenzie Love
Vancouver worker co-op Shift Delivery launched in August, 2011, with a vision of reducing the impact of goods movement and creating empowering green jobs.
To all appearances, the co-op has succeeded on both counts. Shift estimates that in the five years from 2012-2017, it avoided 70 tonnes of CO2 emissions that would have arisen from conventional deliveries. And while the creation of green jobs may be a bit harder to quantify, Joel Gibbs is one of the people who’s benefited on this front. A member of the co-op for a little over two years, Gibbs had always been interested in worker co-ops but had no experience with them prior to joining Shift.
The sense of responsibility and ownership of his work and the use of collective decision-making were a big part of why Gibbs became and remains a member of Shift. Looking back on his time with the co-op, he says he’s also found its commitment to environmental sustainability particularly rewarding.
“Our delivery work focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by taking cars off the road as we do last-mile delivery, and so helping create a more sustainable and a more vibrant city to live in, is definitely a part of that,” he says.
Gibbs has also witnessed the co-op successfully navigate the challenges any such business faces when it comes to changes in management. Arriving at Shift just before the last founding member was about to leave, he’s seen members of the co-op change roles as it continues to grow and evolve. He hopes it may eventually expand into food delivery as a competitor to businesses such as Skip the Dishes, either adding that to the services it currently delivers, or spinning it off into a new co-op altogether.
Gibbs acknowledges that Shift has also faced challenges over the years, with those that accompany growth among them.
“It’s been just that challenge of trying to balance growth so we can raise worker wages and bring everybody up to a living wage while also continuing that expansion to serve our other goals and our vision as a co-op to improve our community and make it more of a vibrant place to live.”
Although Shift has benefited from a pilot business license in Vancouver, the possibility of expanding into other Canadian cities has been complicated by the co-op’s differences from conventional delivery businesses, and the sometimes difficult accompanying regulations elsewhere in Canada. Although there are a couple of cargo-bike delivery companies in Montreal — though they’re not worker co-ops — Gibbs hopes these businesses can become more widespread.
In the meantime, Gibbs says, being a member of CWCF has helped Shift with many of the challenges it has faced. He learned about the importance of regular check-ins between worker co-op members, to alert each other to both problems and successes, at a recent CWCF conference, and says being part of a broader network of worker co-ops has also helped Shift.
“With a lot of situations that co-ops go through, there’s almost always at least one other co-op that’s gone through something similar if not the exact same situation,” he says. “So that’s one of the things we’ve gone through recently is dealing with the founders leaving and some challenges around that, so being able through CWCF to get in contact with other co-ops that have been through very similar situations, and ask them how they dealt with it.”
No doubt Shift will continue to face challenges in the years ahead. But by staying true to its vision, it appears well positioned to navigate them as nimbly as its “trikers” on Vancouver streets.