In December 2019, Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-op's 'Co-op Way' report 2018.

The report discussed the company's environmental and social impact. It addressed issues including waste and green house gas emissions for its own operations, as well as the impact from raw ingredients such as such as palm oil, fish, soy. The report provided GHG emission data from refrigeration, transport, heating/generation and electricity. It also discussed water use, use of pesticides and land management in Co-op's agricultural supply chain. The company also discussed the impact of its insurance business, including screening the projects that were supported.

The company stated that it halved its direct GHG emissions between the period 2006 and 2017. It stated that it will half its GHG emissions again by 2025.

Regarding specific products the company stated that: 99.27% of Co-op seafood (wild caught and farmed) was from low or medium-risk fisheries; 100% of the wood and paper used in products for Co-op Food was of known origin – 95% from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or recycled sources; 100% of palm oil was RSPO certified.

Regarding soy, the company stated: "In 2018, we joined the UK Round Table on Soy and footprinted our entire supply chain for soy use for the first time. This revealed we use 80,000 tonnes of soy – most of which comes from animal feed. We will be reviewing our approach, with the new mapping information that we have compiled."

The company was therefore considered to demonstrate a good understanding of its environmental impacts.

The report contained at least two quantifiable targets. For example, 2019 targets included:
- Reduce food waste generated in our stores and depots by 50% by 2030 compared to 2015
- 100% of our packaging (by product line) will be easy to recycle by 2023 (80% by 2020)
- Reduce our Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by a further 50% by 2025 compared to 2016

The report had been independently verified by DNV GL Business Assurance Services UK Limited.

Co-op received Ethical Consumer's best rating for Environmental Reporting.

Reference:

Co-op Way (2018)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the Annual Report 2018 which referred to the Co-op's petrol forecourts.

Co-op lost a mark under Climate Change for retailing petrol.

Reference:

Annual Report 2018 (23 January 2020)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative's website for an update on its use of HFCs. No statement could be found.

The 2018 'Co-op Way' report included some data on the company's GHG emissions from refrigeration, which were said to be tCO2e: 104,343, accounting for 24% of GHG emissions from direct operations based on UK grid average electricity or 42% of emissions accounting for the Co-op use of renewable energy for other sources.

It stated:
"Our direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have reduced by 33% since 2016 and by 20% compared to 2017. This is due to using less energy¹, the UK grid electricity mix being significantly less carbon-intensive in 2018², and a significant reduction in fugitive emissions from refrigeration (in large part due to using less GHG-intensive refrigeration gases)."
"We’ll halve our direct emissions again by 2025, through a multimillion pound investment in natural refrigeration and associated technologies."

In 2014 the company had been rated a leader by EIA in its 6th and final report on the subject, due to the fact that:
- HFC-free cooling accounted for almost 23 per cent of total refrigeration used.
- It had fitted hydrocarbon-based secondary refrigeration systems in five stores.
- It had rolled out doors on fridges in over 200 stores.

As a result the company only lost half a mark under the Climate Change category.

In October 2014 Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) had released the report, called Chilling Facts: Closing the doors on HFCs. The report provided research into the growing uptake of natural refrigerants among some of the world's leading retailers, reflecting a market shift towards climate-friendly refrigeration in the supermarket sector. According to the report hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were the world's fastest growing source of man-made emissions, rising at an alarming rate of 10-15 per cent a year. EIA considered the adaptation of HFC/CO2 hybrid systems as a potentially useful stepping stone towards HFC-free systems, but not as an end point in themselves. The overall aim should be to phase out these gases in favour of climate-friendly alternatives. The report looked at the chemicals used in refrigerating both in-store fridges and freezers as well as the transportation of goods.

The report recommended that retailers should:
1. Commit to installing only HFC-free systems in all new stores and refurbishments, across entire estate, including their food transport systems and international operations;
2. Commit to a total phase-out by 2025 at the latest (the UK Government will ban the use HFCs with the GWP above 2500 from 2020).
3. Fit doors on all chiller and freezer units as standard
4. Remove any HFCs with Global Warming Potential above 2,500 in existing equipment as a matter of priority.

Reference:

website (19 February 2018)

The campaign group Feedback published a report in June 2018 entitled The food waste scorecard: an assessment of supermarket action to address food waste. The report ranked UK supermarkets based on publicly available information, mainly from their websites or news articles, to assess their efforts to tackle food waste in the industry.

The report measured supermarkets against the food use hierarchy. Feedback established key indicators for each facet of the food use hierarchy, which include reducing and preventing surplus food as a priority, followed by redistributing surplus food, recycling surplus food and finally the proper disposal of food waste. Supermarkets scored a point for each of the 32 key indicators successfully implemented.

Co-op scored an E rating overall and ranked joint 5th out of 10 supermarkets assessed in the report, along with Marks & Spencer’s and Iceland.

On reducing and preventing surplus food, Co-op was found to have implemented 5 of the 20 key indicators, however had not released any publicly available information on food waste. Co-op was the only supermarket to score a point for relaxing date labels and selling food past its ‘Best Before’ date and was recognised for being the first supermarket in the UK to do so.

The second step in the food use hierarchy is redistribution, which involves surplus food that is fit for human consumption being sent to charities and organisations that redistribute food. Co-op was found to have implemented 2 of the 4 key indicators and scored 1 out of 3 available points for the quantity of food redistributed; in September 2015 Co-op stated on its website that 50 tonnes of food was redistributed, while FareShare website stated that Co-op distributed 494 tonnes of surplus food to Fareshare in 2016.

The food use hierarchy holds that food surplus unfit for human consumption should be used to feed animals. Co-op did not score any points under this criteria and was not found to be engaging in this activity. At the time of publishing, Co-op had a diagram of the food waste hierarchy which did not include transforming food waste into animal feed, which was considered by Feedback to be a ‘distortion’ of the recycling stage of the hierarchy which is enshrined in the UK Waste Regulations (2011).

The final step in the food use hierarchy is the disposal of inedible food waste. Most UK supermarkets have a zero waste to landfill commitment. Instead, large quantities of food suitable for human consumption is being sent to Anaerobic Digestion (AD) to be converted into energy. According to the Feedback report, AD should only be used to process food waste which is unsuitable for redistribution or animal feed. Co-op was recognised for fulfilling 1 of the 3 key indicators under the disposal criteria due to its zero waste to landfill commitment.

The report stated, "Producing our food costs our planet dearly, with Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) from agriculture, forestry and fisheries doubling over the past 50 years (FAO 2014) to nearly 20% of emissions resulting from human activity. Globally, around one third of all food produced is wasted (FAO 2011)". As Coop was one of the lowest scoring in this report, it lost half a mark under Climate Change.

Reference:

Food Waste scorecard 2018 (18 April 2019)

In 2019, Pesticide Action Network UK conducted a survey to investigate what supermarkets were doing to minimise the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, wildlife and human health. PANUK ranked the top ten UK supermarkets based on eight areas related to pesticides. They were ranked out of 4, where 1 was 'lagging behind', 2 was 'could do better', 3 was 'making good progress' and 4 was 'outstanding'.

None of the supermarkets scored 'outstanding', with the Co-op scoring fourth in the supermarket ranking and overall being placed in the 'could do better' category. Its score was broken down as follows:

Supporting suppliers - 3
Residues in food - 2
Highly hazardous pesticides - 2
Customer engagement - 3
Bees and pollinators - 1
Transparency - 1
Pesticide products - 2
Organic - 3

As a result the Co-op lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics.

Reference:

Ranking UK supermarkets on pesticides (28 January 2020)

In August 2017, Ethical Consumer viewed the report entitled, 'Dirty Business: The livestock farms polluting the UK', published on the Bureau For Investigative Journalism website.

The report stated that 424 "serious pollution incidents" were recorded from pig, poultry and dairy farms between 2010 – 2016; having a potentially major impact on the environment. It described how some farmers were acting as ‘repeat offenders’ and were treating pollution fines as part of routine running costs. In addition, some farms that were linked to serious pollution incidents or poor environmental management during Environmental Agency inspections received millions of pounds in government subsidies in 2015 and 2016.

Incidents were reported to be commonly caused from the “storage, handling and spreading of waste, due to "lack of investment in infrastructure" or "inadequate planning and management of these substances".

The Co-op, as well as other supermarkets, were reported to have been supplied by companies operating farms linked to serious incidents; and two other incidents were linked to an intensive farm - Pawton Dairy – that supplied Arla Foods, who in turn supplied the Co-op.

The Co-op lost half a mark under the Pollution and Toxics category.

Reference:

Dirty Business (21 August 2017)

In December 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative Group's completed questionnaire. In response to a question on toxic chemicals it stated:

'The Co-op has identified via a range of sources such as official European guidance and United Nations and NGO recommendations, a number of chemicals of concern. Of these, we have prioritised the elimination of the most persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic chemicals from our products since 2001. The use of any remaining chemicals of concern, where no alternative is available, is limited to specific functions.
We comply with REACH, the EU’s main regulation on chemicals, but also go one step further by not allowing any Substances of Very High Concern in our own-brand products above a concentration of 0.1% (w/w). A precautionary principle continues to guide our approach to the use of chemicals in our food and non-food products. In 2002 we removed triclosan from all own-brand products; since 2005 there have been no phthalates in own-brand products (DEP, DEHP, & DBP). We have removed parabens from own-brand products but we continue to review the evidence on any risks associated with their use.'

The Co-operative Group received Ethical Consumer's best rating for toxics in cosmetics and household products.

Reference:

Questionnaire response December 2019 (20 January 2020)

It was reported in the Independent in May 2019 that major UK supermarkets were buying corned beef from JBS, a Brazilian meat firm linked to illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
Friends of the Earth found that Co-op, Morrisons, Waitrose, Iceland and Lidl all sold corned beef from JBS. Morrisons, Lidl and the Co-op sold own-brand products by JBS. Waitrose and Iceland sold corned beef by Princes with beef produced by JBS.

FoE investigators cross-referenced the product codes on the tins with regulatory documents and supply-chain websites, tracing the corned beef back to JBS slaughterhouses in Brazil.

At the same time, research group Earthsight said it found Sainsbury’s and Asda, as well as Morrisons and Lidl, still stocked JBS products. Sainsbury’s and Asda stock Exeter and Princes corned beef supplied by JBS.

Iceland, which sells corned beef by Princes, says: "Princes is confident that it does not source any product from sites that have been called into question by the investigation, and that any issues Friends of the Earth has identified are historical and have already been addressed by JBS.”

The world's largest meatpacker had a history of buying cattle from farms that were illegally deforested. In 2017, JBS was fined nearly US$8 million for doing that.
JBS has also been accused of ‘cattle laundering’, a tactic by which farms with illegal deforestation move cows to legal farms that then sell them on to JBS.
Deforestation displaces indigenous communities that have lived in the Amazon for generations.
Rainforests are also habitats to countless wild species, many of which we haven’t even discovered yet. Some plant species could hold the key to curing life-threatening conditions.
And these forests absorb and store carbon dioxide (CO2), the main planet-heating gas that we urgently need to reduce. Cutting down the rainforests releases CO2 into the air, ramping up the climate crisis – and erasing wildlife from the planet.
The cattle industry is responsible for 80% of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Reference:

Major UK supermarkets ‘buy corned beef from meat firm linked to illegal razing of Amazon rainforests

The Co-op was ranked 8 out of 11 major brands of canned tuna in the UK in the 2016 Greenpeace Tuna League Table. According to the league table: "The Co-operative’s tuna is 100% caught using sustainable fishing methods. The bad news: it needs stronger policies to actively avoid illegally caught fish and ensure the protection of local workers. The supermarket should also do more to help customers choose wisely in-store."
As a result the company lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer's Habitats and Resources category.
The companies were judged over seven criteria.
1. Traceability
2. Sustainability
3. Legality
4 Equity
5. Sourcing Policy
6. Transparency and customer information
7. Driving change

Reference:

Tuna League Table 2016 (27 February 2017)

In its questionnaire response of December 2019, the Co-op said this:

We are currently collecting data on our 2019 soy footprint. In 2018 our soy footprint was 80,000 with 98% of this in animal feed. This year we are focusing on gathering additional information around country location. [They could not state whether it was sourced in Brazil or not.]
• All the soy used in Co-op food products is covered by zero deforestation and sustainable soy credits (RTRS credits)
• We’re working with our suppliers to help us reach 100% sustainable and deforestation free soy across our supply chain by 2025
• The Co-op backs the UK Round Table on Soy ambitions for an industry-led approach to send a clear market signal for soy that protects forests, native vegetation and livelihoods, and encourage the physical supply of sustainable soy into the UK.
• We also support industry initiatives such as the Cerrado Manifesto- a call to action to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in Brazil’s Cerrado, where soy is grown.
• The Co-op has funded 100% RTRS credits for the three years to the end of 2020, with the credits directly benefitting the natural environment and supporting sustainable producers.
• We scored 5/6 in a recent WWF benchmark on soy.
• You can read more about our work on soy here: https://www.coop.co.uk/environment/sustainability/soy-commitment

They have been a member of RTRS since 2014.
It could not say what proportion of the soya it used was organic.

Reference:

Questionnaire response December 2019 (20 January 2020)

In December 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative's completed Ethical Consumer Questionnaire and its latest (2018) Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP) submission to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The Co-op reported on all types of palm oil and 100% was certified through the RSPO. 57% was segregated. The 2018 'Co-op Way' report stated that it had a target to "Ensure palm oil used in all Co-op branded products comes from a sustainable, segregated Certified Sustainable Palm Oil source by 2020 by reducing reliance on credits."

Ethical Consumer could find no evidence that the Co-op was tracing its supply chain to the mill or plantation or that it had disclosed any of its suppliers. It was not felt that the Co-operative was demonstrating any additional positive policies such as organic certification or commitment to reduction in use.

Overall, the Co-operative received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Palm Oil and lost half a mark in this category.

Reference:

Co-op ACOP 2018 (20 January 2020)