“Co+op Forest” Offsets Carbon Emissions and Supports South American Co-ops

better raking cacao

A farmer in the ACOPAGRO cacao cooperative, a collaborator with NCG’s Co+op Forest, rakes cacao beans.

Many of us travel for work or leisure, and whether we realize it or not, it can have a negative impact on the environment.  Greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft have increased exponentially over the last decade.  Everyday over 8 million people across the globe travel by air, and each plane emits particulate and gasses that contribute to climate change.  Each bi-coastal flight has a warming effect equivalent to 2-3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) has long been concerned about the impact their work travel has had on the environment, and they wanted to do something to counteract that.  In 2013, they created the Co+op Forest initiative that offsets greenhouse gas emissions associated with NCG’s business travel and utilities in each of its main offices.

“It requires a considerable amount of travel to serve all 148 NCG co-ops nationwide, and Co+op Forest allows us to offset the resulting greenhouse emissions in a way that reflects not only our core value of sustainability but also provides opportunities for cooperatives 3,000 miles away to thrive,” said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer of NCG.

NCG partners with Pur Projet—an offshoot of the fair trade food company Alter Eco and an international organization preserving ecosystems in disadvantaged communities—to grow the Co+op Forest.  They work with local farmer cooperatives to plant and maintain native trees in the Peruvian Amazon.  Co+op Forest is part of a system of sustainable agroforestry in the region, where local farmers produce fair trade, organic products; some of which are sold in NCG’s retail food co-ops.

NCG’s Co+op Forest will expand to the Alto Shamboyacu community, which is home to roughly 150 families—mostly organic, fair trade coffee and chocolate producers who belong to the Oro Verde farmer cooperative.  The cooperative works to increase crop yields by training farmers in sustainable agroforestry techniques to complement and preserve the surrounding rainforest.  As part of this year’s carbon offset purchase through Pur Projet, NCG is compensating the farmers to plant and maintain 1,458 native trees among their crops.  These new additions to Co+op Forest will improve crop yields by providing needed shade, create habitat for other native species, and eventually generate income for the community from FSC-certified timber—all the while sequestering tons of greenhouse gases as the trees mature.

Oro Verde cooperative also works with farmers to revitalize beekeeping, a tradition to the area’s indigenous culture that has been largely abandoned in modern times. “We chose to expand our support to the Alto Shamboyacu community because, in addition to slowing climate change by planting trees, the local farmer-owned Oro Verde cooperative is addressing another critical sustainability issue—helping to protect the world’s pollinators,” Shrader added.

NCG also committed this year to conserving an additional 1,200 acres in the old growth forest of the San Martin BioCorridor—a lush, mountainous landscape in northwestern Peru that is highly biodiverse—and planting 729 native trees in the deforested Alto Huayabamba region.  Both are areas that NCG has supported in past years, bringing the total number of trees that call Co+op Forest home to an estimated 837,000.

Currently three NCG member food co-ops, The Common Market in Frederick, Md., Los Alamos Cooperative Market in Los Alamos, New Mexico and BriarPatch Co-op Community Market in Grass Valley, Calif. have also made individual contributions to Co+op Forest to meet their own sustainability goals.

Chris Maher, general manager of BriarPatch said that he’s proud that NCG walks the walk by offsetting travel-based carbon emission through Co+op Forest, but that their co-op can also participate in the program as well.  “In 2014, when BriarPatch began charging for single use bags, we incentivized customers to bring their reusable bags by promising a donation to the Co+op Forest for the first 100,000 reusable bags used in our store,” Maher said.

NCG member co-ops interested in participating in the Co+op Forest can contact Allie Mentzer, NCG advocacy specialist at 866-709-COOP extension 1205 or email allie.mentzer@ncg.coop.


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Democracy: successfully sustaining a culture in which people choose meaningful ways to participate for both individual and common good.

Each issue of Connections will focus on one pillar of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. For more information about 4PCG, read the articles in the January/February 2014 and March/April 2014 issues of Cooperative Grocer.  
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