Co-operatives can lead the way in creating a green and sustainable society

Reading West MP Alok Sharma

Reading West MP Alok Sharma

Co-operatives can lead the way in creating a green and sustainable society, a conference in Reading heard.

With community-led action and the Big Society high on the agenda, new co-operatives are emerging to face the challenges of climate change and the opportunities presented by the political drive towards ‘localism’.

Experts from the fields of sustainability and environmental action led discussions at the Co-operation & Sustainability Conference, organised by Co-operatives South East, in Reading on Tuesday, March 15.

They were joined by Reading West MP Alok Sharma, who said Big Society projects would encourage public sector workers to take control of, and deliver, services and empower communities to buy shops and pubs at risk of closure.

And he applauded as the Big Society in action: the work of Tilehurst Globe, which recently encouraged 150 people to participate in a community clean-up; of Pangbourne and Whitchurch Sustainability Group for their work in reducing the carbon footprints of local people; and of Theale Environment Group, who planted 2,010 trees in 2010 with the support of the local council and sponsorship from the business community. 

The conference, which attracted 64 delegates from across the South East representing co-operative businesses, community groups and the public sector, explored four key areas: low carbon housing, green travel, sustainable communities and renewable energy.

Carol Biggs, of Hastings Trust, told how her organisation had retro-fitted a Victorian terraced house to conserve energy by 76 percent, while Charlie Baker, of Urbed, explained how housing associations could employ similar techniques to help tenants reduce their energy bills.

Dan Harris, of Oxford Cycle Workshop, explained how his co-operative was encouraging the public to cycle more, by refurbishing and selling used bikes, helping customers to maintain and repair their machines through training, and promoting cycling through events like the city’s annual cycle festival.

Mark Luntley, of Westmill Wind Farm in Oxfordshire, told how 2,500 co-operative members had raised £4.6m towards the construction of five turbines producing enough energy every year to power 2,500 homes.

And Rob Hopkins, of The Transition Network, explained how participants could address the challenges of climate change and peak oil through the Transition Towns initiative, where communities seek to meet their own needs in areas like food provision, energy production and economic development.

“Transition is one of the most exciting experiments anywhere in the world, and it stands on the shoulders of what the co-operative movement has done for 160 years,” he said.

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