UNP Grocer 44217 Co-Op CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq Manchester019

Shirine Khoury-Haq, CEO of Co-op & co-chair, Net Zero Council

Economists have used the term ‘permacrisis’ to describe the decade in which we are living. In brief, this describes a series of extraordinary macroeconomic and geopolitical global events, combined with domestic instability, which together create a prolonged period of crisis and uncertainty – a ’new normal’ for all of us. 

For businesses facing long-term decisions, including how they can balance sustainability and profitability, these conditions are far from ideal. Throughout this period, the UK Climate Change Committee has also consistently pointed to a lack of policy implementation to underpin the government’s legally binding 2050 net zero target.

While there has been progress on the development of green technologies, lack of certainty, consistency and therefore confidence act as barriers for businesses looking to make significant green investments and decarbonise.

For small and medium-sized enterprises, current economic conditions and the resulting impact on operations and profitability mean investing in decarbonisation is even more difficult. The UK Business Climate Hub seeks to address this by providing SMEs, who we know are enthusiastic about playing their part, with the tools they need to understand and overcome these barriers.

Communication is key

While the size of investments may differ in large businesses, certainty, consistency and confidence would also benefit larger UK organisations. Legislative commitments and post-COP28 pledges are definitely welcome on this subject – but greater collective clarity must be achieved through collaborative engagement with government.

That’s why I’ve been pleased to co-chair the government’s Net Zero Council with minister Graham Stuart over recent months. To ensure we’re in a position to seize the opportunities that the transition to net zero will present, it’s vital that government and businesses of all sizes work in concert on this vital agenda. It is clear that investment, government policy and business implementation will all continue to be critical.

The Net Zero Council, as well as organisations and industry bodies across the UK, know this is not only a business issue. Any government and business action will only be successful if it is aligned with communication with, and action by, consumers.

At Co-op, we strongly believe this work must include and engage young people, who will inherit the planet after those of us in positions to make a difference today either succeed or fail in our efforts.

In our recent investigation into Gen Z views on net zero, shifting to more renewable energy sources such as solar and wind was viewed as the most important action the UK government could take by 92%. While there was recognition of the important role that members of the public can play in tackling climate change – 86% of young people believed reducing energy use at home was an important action – they believed action at a system-level would have the biggest impact.

As many as 67% of young people saw policymakers as having the primary responsibility for ensuring the UK reduces its emissions to hit its net zero targets. And 30% agreed national and local government had a key role to play in supporting climate change initiatives, making it easier for people across society to make the necessary changes.

Actions we are taking at Co-op 

We believe in action, not just words, on the climate agenda. In recognition of this, Co-op was named ‘Climate Leader of the Year’ by the first Fairtrade Global Awards, in acknowledgement of its commitment to ‘innovate and generate impact to tackle the climate crisis’. It was also honoured with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development in 2022.

Continuing this good work, Co-op recently signed a 15-year Corporate Power Purchase Agreement with Voltalia. This agreement will see Co-op source electricity for its estate from a 62,500-panel solar farm near Scarborough in North Yorkshire, accounting for up to 7.5% of our total electricity needs when fully operational.

We’re incredibly proud of this agreement and recognise increasing the UK’s renewable energy capacity as an integral part of achieving our net zero targets, but we know more needs to be done across the UK to decarbonise the grid so that every business and household is being powered by green energy.

This can only be achieved through a combination of private and public investment, and I hear that more businesses could be making more sustainably minded decisions if they had greater confidence in the factors outside their control.

Where do we go from here?

Understanding all of the moving parts will not always be possible, and we will have to take risks along the way while ensuring businesses of all sizes continue to thrive. However, as we don’t have a back-up planet, the transition to net zero is not optional. 

Despite the enormous uncertainty that defines this era, there is still opportunity and appetite across UK businesses to work with government and consumers on this most critical of issues. To date, our nation has led the way in decarbonisation and we have a real opportunity to regain this leadership position.

I take encouragement from the collaboration that is in progress, as well as the open communication and sharing of best practice through so many different means – but we must not get distracted or complacent. For the sake of our children, we must continue to do all we can to achieve our net zero goals both in the UK and across the world.