Exploring Sustainability : Co-op, Community, Global


Sustainability: a traditional concept of recent coinage.

Sustainability is a term and an outlook whose meaning will be explored for the foreseeable future. It is the subject of reports in these pages and in future editions. According to the premises of sustainability, sooner or later everyone will be dealing with its possibilities and problems.

“Sustainability: Co-op, Community, and Global” also is the theme of this June’s Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference. This heading captures the multiple levels of challenge posed by the notion of sustainability. Our understanding of approaches to sustainability is evolving and acquiring more depth. At each level, there is much more to be learned. Nevertheless, some clarity is emerging, derived from widening thought and practice.

For a food co-op, sustainability encompasses not only energy-consuming practices in store design and operations. The co-op’s very existence as a grocery store partakes in global distribution, whether its merchandise is natural and organic or a mix of conventional and organic. Therefore, the entire cycle of the business and its use of human and natural resources must be examined.

Ensuring environmental health and social well-being are appropriate ends and necessary policies for food co-ops. The foundation for such policies is recognition that our cooperative identity extends to our local community, to our larger community of cooperatives, and to the global community. (These insights were well summarized by Mark Goehring two years ago in “Co-op as Store Becomes Co-op as Community,” CG #117, March-April 2005.)

By way of introduction to this edition’s exploration of sustainable practices, I’ll end my column with the following useful overview of the global context. It is a summary (from In Business magazine) by David Korten, who is associated with Yes! magazine and the Business Alliance for Living Local Economies, and whose latest book is The Great Turning.

“The human species is entering a period of dramatic and potentially devastating change as the result of forces of our own creation that are now largely beyond our control. It is within our means, however, to shape a positive outcome if we choose to embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to lift ourselves to a new level of species maturity and potential.

“Histories written by the victors of Empire’s endless wars, intrigues, and deceits have greatly exaggerated Empire’s accomplishments while neglecting the costs and lost opportunities. Current attempts by the world’s imperial elites to salvage the power and privilege of Empire are accelerating the collapse of critical social and environmental systems and threatening the survival of human civilization, if not the human species.

“As a species, we now face both the imperative and the opportunity to say no to Empire, grow up, and accept the responsibilities of mature adulthood.

“Our failing environmental and social systems create the imperative. The global revolution in transportation and communications is creating the opportunity. Leadership in actualizing the possibilities is coming from people everywhere who are making the choice to walk away from Empire’s false promises and engage the work of turning our cultures, economies, and politics from dominator to partnership relations.”

Korten also summarized the global imperial economy and local living economies:

In the global imperial economy:

“The defining purpose is to make money for owners to increase their power and their claims to the resources of the many.

“The guiding mantra is create global monopolies to eliminate local choice, take all you can get and pass costs to others.

“The rules favor absentee owners, monopoly-scale enterprises, financial speculators, rights of property, and central planning by global corporations.

“Denying any responsibility for public interests, proponents seek to secure impermeable boundaries around the exclusive private interest of corporations and their wealthiest owners, while demanding that communities eliminate any borders protective of public interests.”

In local living economies:

“The defining purpose is to secure fulfilling livelihoods for all and increase the generative power of the whole.

“The guiding mantra is create beneficial local options, take only what you need, and accept responsibility for the whole.

“The rules favor participating owners, human-scale enterprises, wealth creators, rights of people, and self-organization by people and communities.

“Recognizing the need of all living entities to protect and balance individual and community interests, proponents support both firms and communities in establishing managed protective borders that support fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial exchange.”


Dave Gutknecht is editor of Cooperative Grocer ([email protected]).

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