Co+efficient, National Co+op Grocers’ sustainability program, was designed from the ground up to help food co-ops measure and manage their sustainability impacts. After picking up steam for the last year and a half, it is clear that participants are beginning to see positive results in their social, environmental and economic impact.
Co+efficient—which is the combination of the words “co-op” and “efficient,” and also implies a multiplier effect—has an overarching goal to create a measurable impact to a co-op’s sustainability. The program and all of its components work toward this singular goal by addressing three phases:
• Measure baseline sustainability performance
• Analyze performance to understand strengths and opportunities
• Drive improvement by setting goals and creating an action plan
Sheila Samuelson, NCG’s sustainability specialist, said that the program was developed when NCG members expressed the need for a comprehensive and unified sustainability program that would help co-ops address impacts strategically on a national level. This involved setting up a program to track a food co-op’s biggest impacts, such as energy use and carbon emissions; reducing, reusing, recycling materials; labor practices; local purchasing; community involvement; and other areas.
Whether a co-op has an existing sustainability program or is starting from scratch, Co+efficient provides a common framework and language. This allows participants to compare and benchmark performance, and it helps NCG demonstrate improvements across the sector. “It was important from the start that Co+efficient include a standard set of co-op sustainability metrics that would allow apples-to-apples comparisons between stores,” Samuelson said. “Having this context helps a co-op see whether they’re lagging or leading, in any given area.” In addition, Co+efficient is compatible with many other sustainability frameworks, like the EPA’s EnergyStar, or the Sustainable Food Trade Association.
“Co+efficient is yet another way in which NCG co-ops are demonstrating that we truly can be stronger together and show courageous leadership towards improving our sustainability impacts,” said NCG CEO Robynn Shrader. “It’s been good to see so many co-ops embrace Co+efficient, and hear their excitement for a program that not only facilitates tracking meaningful data, but also helps tell the story of co-ops’ commitment to sustainability.”
In 2016, Co+efficient is placing a special emphasis on the last of the three phases: helping co-ops take action that will lead to measurable improvement. After collecting metrics and determining their strengths and opportunities, the co-op can identify which areas to target for improvement. Co+efficient offers many resources and tools to help co-ops implement a change, or they can leverage the collective knowledge of the group by reaching out to peers for advice. For example, a co-op that has prioritized water efficiency could reach out to those that have already had success in that area.
According to Samuelson, many co-ops that have embraced Co+efficient are already seeing results. “Using the framework has helped co-ops identify which sustainability projects they want to tackle next, helping drive continuous improvement,” said Samuelson. One example of this is an increasing number of co-ops with Green Teams. “These environmental committees engage staff to look for efficiency opportunities and launch new projects. It’s one of the best ways to begin and engage around sustainability,” Samuelson said.
Kenna Eaton, the general manager at The Food Co-op in Port Townsend, Wash. said participating in Co+efficient is valuable because the data is specifically tied to food co-op performance. Other sustainability programs often include a variety of businesses and organizations, which can be useful, but retail grocery stores are very energy-use intensive. Co+efficient addresses that difference.
Eaton said the Co+efficient program is also beneficial for measuring her co-op’s Ends and reporting sustainability metrics to her board. “Co+efficient helps me collect data and measure it consistently. It’s been really informative and it helps me with my reporting to the board about our Ends and environmental sustainability and whether we are making progress,” she said.
The Port Townsend Food Co-op is also particularly concerned about climate change and monitoring its water usage—as both a long and short term resource issue. “It didn’t snow last year and there’s not enough snow pack on the Olympic Mountains to provide enough water. It’s our scarcest commodity,” Eaton said.
This year, fourteen co-ops were awarded Co+efficient Sustainability Star awards (see list below) for their success and innovation in sustainability. “Since sustainability is baked into the business model of a co-op, we have the advantage of being able to tell a more authentic story about sustainability than most of our competition,” Samuelson said. “We want to be sure that story is shared.”
Co+efficient Sustainability Star award recipients
- Cook County Whole Foods Co-op
- East End Food Co-op
- Hunger Mountain Co-op
- Menomonie Market Food Co-op
- Monadnock Food Co-op
- New Pioneer Food Co-op
- North Coast Co-op
- Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Co-op
- Oryana Natural Foods Market
- Seward Community Co-op
- The Food Co-op – Port Townsend
- The Merc Co+op
- The Wedge Community Co-op
- Valley Natural Foods