The Co-operative Group and Supreme Creations, the supplier of the supermarket’s reusable Fairtrade cotton bags, have been recognised at the UK’s top responsible business awards.
The two organisations were honoured for their commitment to and leadership on environmental and supply chain issues by HRH The Prince of Wales at Business in the Community’s (BITC) annual Awards for Excellence event at Clarence House last night.
The Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest mutual retailer, received the Asda Environmental Leadership Award for its innovative approach to managing the environmental impacts of its business. The group’s environmental strategy reaches across its operations, from food to financial services, enabling the organisation to lead the way by committing to voluntary initiatives to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, and coming up with innovative solutions to issues, such as building wind farms on its own land and “Plan Bee” to help reverse the decline in the UK’s bee population.
Supreme Creations, the world’s largest ethical manufacturer of environmentally-friendly bags and packaging, picked up the BITC Supply Chain Award for its pioneering product development, and commitment to creating secure working conditions and sustainable communities. “Bags for Life” are a common sight on the high street as millions of environmentally-aware shoppers have switched from plastic bags.
The Supreme Creations bags produced in south India have also created a new sustainable source of income for the communities that make them. At its manufacturing base Supreme employs more than 2,000 workers, 90 per cent of whom are women earning 33 per cent more than the average. The British High Commissioner to India, and cross-party members from the House of Lords, have lauded Supreme’s work as exemplar for all global supply chain organisations.
Working with Supreme Creations, The Co-operative became the first UK supermarket to launch a Fairtrade cotton shopping bag. In January 2009, the retailer reported a 45 per cent reduction in single-use plastic carrier bags distributed to customers for 2008 compared to 2006. This is in line with its commitment to cut single-use plastic bags by half by last May, as part of the Government-backed voluntary agreement managed by WRAP, which will be reporting on industry progress this month.
The partnership between The Co-operative and Supreme Creations also allowed both organisations to commit to helping build a new school with the Wings of Hope Children’s Charity, in India, through the sale of the Fairtrade bags. To date, just over £75,000 has been donated to the charity.
Paul Kelly, corporate affairs director, ASDA, and chair of judges for the Environmental Leadership Award, said: “I congratulate The Co-operative Group for their achievement as Example of Excellence. The company has demonstrated that sustainability can be fully embedded into the business model and beyond. From ensuring its own operations are environmentally sound to investing in low carbon products, and addressing ‘hotpoints’ in the supply chain to engaging with its membership base, The Co-operative Group has taken risks in order to drive environmental excellence on a huge scale.”
Supreme’s business and social objectives are inextricably linked, demonstrating that embedding ethical behaviour in a company can bring significant business benefits. Since 2006, Supreme has grown exponentially, with a 350 per cent growth in sales, and 900 per cent increase in its workforce. Further, through the production of the Fairtrade cotton bags, The Co-operative and Supreme have helped generate an extra £360,000 in income for the cotton farming communities in India.
WRAP figures show that plastic bag usage has fallen from 13.4bn to 9.9bn between 2007 and 2008. By working with The Co-operative and other leading UK high-street retailers, Supreme has played a big part in this reduction.
Amur S Lakshminarayanan, vice-president and head, Europe, Tata Consultancy Services and chair of judges for the Supply Chain award, said: “Supreme Creation’s entire business of eco-friendly bags has Fairtrade supply chain values at its core. The organisation’s determination to pay a fair amount to suppliers, to support and train cotton farmers and workers, has enabled Supreme to differentiate its business and add value to retailers and help consumers to make sustainable choices.”