The ‘crisis of capitalism’ in recent years has resulted in growing numbers of people questioning the predominantly market driven, competition based nature of the businesses which provide our goods and services. If this system doesn’t necessarily benefit the vast majority of people, our society, our economy, or the environment, why be part of it? What are the alternatives?
The co-operative movement began in Europe in the 19th century with the application of co-operative principles to business organisation. Co-operative businesses are owned and run by and for their members – whether they are customers, employees or residents. Each member has an equal say in what the co-operative does, and share in the profits it makes. Co-operatives are therefore not readily influenced by the whims of the stock market or investors. They are unique businesses based on sharing. The community-based membership system results in co-operatives making inherently positive contributions to its members and the communities it serves.
By working together in democratic co-operation, people across the world are making their communities better places to live through co-operatives which keep vital services alive, provide jobs and livelihoods, protect local environments, and create vibrant communities.
By all signs there is an alternative economy and people across the world are actively part of it. According to Co-operatives UK, there are over 5,933 independent co-operative businesses in the UK and over 1.4 million worldwide working in all parts of the economy from healthcare and housing to farming and football, wind farms and web design. Over one billion people are members of co-operatives worldwide, and over three billion secure a livelihood through them.
Co-operatives UK work to promote the co-operative alternative across many sectors of the economy from High Street consumer-owned co-operatives to pubs and football clubs, healthcare to agriculture, credit unions to community owned shops. Co-operatives Fortnight is the co-operative sector’s national campaign, bringing together co-operatives up and down the country to highlight how co-operatives share their profits, give people an equal say and help build a better world. Co-operatives Fortnight 2012 was a peak of activity during the International Year of Co-Operatives and allowed co-operatives across the UK to demonstrate how co-operative businesses are providing alternatives to austerity and kick starting a new economy.
According to Co-operatives UK, co-operatives operating across all business sectors UK contribute £35.6bn to the UK economy. For the past four years, the sector has outperformed the UK economy, demonstrating their resilience during difficult economic times and proving that values and principles can go hand in hand with commercial performance. This also demonstrates that there is a workable alternative to the prevalent norms of the economy – the individualistic, short term, profit driven nature of the markets which many blame for the worldwide economic downturn.
Co-operatives are the largest membership movement in the country with 12.8 million members. In times of economic downturn, whilst the UK economy suffers from recession and austerity cuts, the co-operative economy has behaved differently. Each year since the economic downturn began the co-operatives have increased in number, gained more members and increased profit year on year.
The co-operative ethos is the backbone of Sheffield Renewables. Sheffield Renewables is all about working together to benefit the city, its people and the environment and any surplus money we earn is re-invested to support local sustainability. We wholly support the efforts of Co-operative UK and the work it does to promote co-operatives and the benefits they bring not only individuals and communities, but also the wider benefits to our society, economy and environment.
There is an alternative out there. There is a way you can make a difference. Go and get involved!
More information on Co-operatives can be found via the links below;
Co-operatives UK’s ‘The UK co-operative economy 2012: Alternatives to austerity’
UN International Year of Cooperatives