In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-op Group's Sustainability Report 2019, 'Co-operate: It's what we do'.

The report discussed the company's environmental and social impact. It addressed a wide variety of issues covering many aspects of the company's activities. Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints were discussed covering: ingredient sourcing, land-use change, manufacture, packaging, transport, on-site energy use and refrigeration, and waste. Reference was also made to the carbon impact arising from customers as well as the companies investments.

It discussed plastic packaging waste of its own business and its customers. Food waste and water scarcity were also addressed.

Sourcing issues were addressed including responsible fishing and farming, antibiotic use, animal welfare and animal testing. Deforestation issues around soy and palm were discussed as was peat degradation. Impacts of pesticide use and sourcing of wood and paper were also highlighted.

The report also discussed how it considered environmental criteria for its investments, and stated that the investments in fixed-income bonds made by its insurance business were screened against its ethical policy.

The company reported a 39% reduction in direct GHG emissions and 2.5% reduction in product-related GHG emissions between 2016 and 2019. The company was engaged in carbon offset projects. It stated that it had consistently campaigned against fracking and in favour of renewable energy. The company had reduced food waste by 27% since 2015. Many other figures reporting the company's prprogress were reported.

The report provided comprehensive quantitative data covering the majority of the above environmental aspects.

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

The report contained at least two quantifiable targets. These included:
- 50% reduction in direct emissions by 2025 compared to 2016.
- 11% reduction in product related emissions by 2025 compared to 2016.
- Eliminate all own-brand plastic products not designed to be recycled or reused by 2023.
- Reduce food waste generated in own stores and depots by 50% by 2030 compared to 2015.
- Reduce water consumption across own properties by 10% by 2025 compared to 2020.
- 100% of palm oil in own products will be segregated RSPO certified by the end of 2020.
- 100% of soy in own products, including that embedded in animal feed, will be deforestation-free and sustainable by 2025.

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

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


Sustainability Report 2019 (2019)

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-op group's website and reports, looking for information on what the company was doing to tackle climate change. Ethical Consumer was looking for the following:

For the company to discuss its areas of climate impact, and to discuss plausible ways it has cut them in the past, and ways that it will cut them in the future.

For the company to not be involved in any particularly damaging projects like tar sands, oil or aviation, to not be subject to damning secondary criticism regarding it’s climate actions, and to have relevant sector-specific climate policies in place.

For the company to report annually on its scope 1&2 greenhouse gas emissions (direct emissions by the company), and to go some way towards reporting on its scope 3 emissions (emissions from the supply chain, investments and sold products).

For the company to have a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with international agreements (counted as the equivalent of at least 2.5% cut per year in scope 1&2 emissions), and to not count offsetting towards this target.

The Co-op discussed ways in which it had reduced its emissions in the past - it claimed to have reduced its direct GHG emissions from running our business by 39% vs 2016 (67% vs 2006), to have supported new renewable energy, helping fund five new wind farms across the UK, and to have campaigned and lobbied government for a halt on UK fracking, support for community renewable energy, support for solar energy subsidies, mandatory GHG reporting and legally binding UK climate targets. It discussed reducing the emissiosn from its ingredients, supply chain and investments. It was felt to have provided a discussion of plausible ways in which it had reduced its emissions in the past and how it would continue to do so in the future.

The Co-op reported on its scope 1&2 emissions. It had a target approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative: "We will reduce absolute GHG emissions from our own operations by 50% by 2025, compared to 2016, in line with the pathway to limit global warming to no greater than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial temperatures". It reported on its scope three emissions in some use of sold products - "Customer cooking, chilling, laundry, fuel use", in purchased goods and in its investments.

The company had previously shared its Co-operative Insurance ethical investment policy with Ethical Consumer, in 2019. It stated that it did not invest in any companies that were involved in the extraction or production of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas and shale gas), or the distribution of those fuels that have a higher global warming impact (e.g. tar sands and certain biofuels). However, it did not have a policy to avoid all investment in fossil fuels.

Overall the Co-op received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for Carbon Reporting and Management, as it had good reporting and targets, and had reported on good past actions, but did not have a policy to avoid all investment in fossil fuels.


2019 Annual Report (24 July 2020)

In July 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.


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.


Food Waste scorecard 2018 (18 April 2019)

In February 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed the report, “Checking Out on Plastics III,” published in January 2021 by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The report tracked progress by ten of the UK’s supermarkets - with a collective market share of over 95 percent in grocery retail - in meeting their commitments to cut plastic, during the calendar year 2019. Analysing plastic use among the prominent players in the country’s supermarket sector, the study ranked these chain retail stores from best to worst in its “plastics league table”.

Highlighting the global plastic-induced crisis, the report stated how the 10 supermarkets “put 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging on the market” in 2019. However, the magnitude of their role here also makes clear the “pivotal role supermarkets [can] play in consumer consumption of plastic, with the influence and buying power to set the pace of change”.

All supermarkets in the report except the leading supermarket, lost a half mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

Rank 8: Co-op

Among the ten retailers, Co-op reported the third-lowest plastic tonnage per unit of market share, and had the highest proportion of plastic packaging classed as ‘widely recyclable’. The report lauded its high degree of transparency, progressive position on policies, and good level of engagement with stakeholders.

Total plastic consumption increased by 3.5%, since 2017, in absolute terms as well as per unit of market share. The proportion of unpackaged fresh produce was low; and the focus on recycling meant that reuse options remained on the back burner.


Checking out on plastics report (February 2021)

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.


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.


Dirty Business (21 August 2017)

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.


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


Tuna League Table 2016 (27 February 2017)

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative Group's most recent completed questionnaire, from December 2019.

In response to a question on timber sourcing, the company stated: 'All our timber (all wood, paper & pulp used in Co-op Own Brand products) in Co-op Food is legally sourced and FSC or recycled content which must have a chain of custody to ensure this. Since 2012 95% or more has been FSC certified or from recycled sources. The remainder is covered by PEFC certification. We were the first retailer to graduate from WWF’s Global Forest and Trade network and have continued to maintain our 3Trees scorecard from WWF. We report annually on our use in our Co-op Way report, in the Environment and resource use section. Additionally, in 2017, 95% of the coffins manufactured by our funeral business were made from FSC-certified wood'.
We also have the world’s only Fair Trade certified charcoal, supporting workers and burners in Namibia.

It stated that it sourced its timber and timber products:
FSC Mix = 95%
Recycled/reclaimed = 2%
PEFC = 3%

Ethical Consumer's timber sourcing ranking required companies scoring a 'best' to cover six of the below issues:
1. Having a timber sourcing policy that covers all timber and timber-derived products
2. the exclusion of illegal timber or that sourced from unknown sources and...
3. ...a discussion on how a company ensures/ implements this
4. clear targets for sourcing timber from sustainably managed sources
5. a discussion of a good minimum standard
6. preference given to certified sources
7. a discussion about tropical hardwoods (THW) and the percentage of THW sourced that are FSC certified
8. involvement with a multi-stakeholder initiative or bridging programme such as the World Wildlife Fund- Global Forest Trade Network
9. use of reclaimed or recycled wood/ paper
10. a high total percentage (50%+) of FSC certified timber sourced by the company.

The Co-op's 2017 Co-op Way Report was downloaded from the company's website. It stated: "In our food business, we’re Graduates of the WWF UK Forest and Trade Network Benchmark – the first retailer to achieve this. This means we’ve committed ourselves to tracing all our timber and paper products back to the forest
source. In 2017 we received the WWF UK Timber Scorecard Benchmark ‘Three Trees’ for our commitments to Forest Stewardship Council and recycled timber, timber products, and reporting."

Its policy covered all wood and paper products and excluded timber from illegal logging operations. It had a target to purchase all timber derived products from certified sustianable sources, with a preference for Forest Stewardship Council certification. The company was said to be an advocate member of the WWF GFTN-UK.
The Co-operative met seven of the criteria, giving it a best ranking for its timber sourcing policy.


Questionnaire response December 2019 (20 January 2020)

In January 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed the Co-operative's most recently completed Ethical Consumer Questionnaire from December 2019 and its latest Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP) submission to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which was for 2019.

The Co-op reported on all types of palm oil and 100% was certified through the RSPO. 73% was segregated. Some small errors in its reporting were found, but only to the measure of less than a tonne. The company was therefore not penalised for this.
The Co-op's 2019 Sustainability report stated: "We’re working on achieving 100% segregated RSPO certified palm oil by the end of 2020."

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.


Generic 2021 (2021)