By Alexis Alexander, Membership Manager

On Saturday, July 7, GreenStar will unite with co-ops around the world in celebrating International Co-ops Day, joining the United Nations (UN) and the International Co-operative Alliance in a commemoration held annually since 1923. This year, at a time of dramatic change in our climate and local economies, co-ops and credit unions are highlighting how their businesses contribute to more sustainable local communities.

The theme of sustainability builds on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has high aims for the next fifteen years: to end poverty, to fight inequality and injustice, and to tackle climate change. As democratic, community-based businesses, co-ops have a unique role to play in these efforts.

I love how Bonnie Hudspeth focuses on celebration and community as she talks about this year’s sustainability theme. Bonnie, Member Programs Manager of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), a federation of more than 35 food co-ops across the Northeast, says, “Co-ops Day is an opportunity for co-ops and their members to celebrate how we contribute to international efforts to address climate change and economic instability. When our needs are not being met — whether it’s for things like healthy food, credit, jobs, or insurance — co-ops offer a way for people to meet their needs, together.”

Here in our Northeast region, food co-ops have been at the forefront of efforts to build more resilient and inclusive local economies. Over the past few years, NFCA member co-ops, including GreenStar, have been sharing strategies for sustainability. Collectively, NFCA co-ops add up to one powerful force for change and good, being locally owned by more than 130,000 people from all walks of life.

At GreenStar, our efforts to help build a more fair and sustainable local community continue to grow:
• From our solar farm in Danby, which has offset more than 218 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the past two years, to 80 percent of our waste stream being recycled, reused, or composted, we can be proud of our commitment to sustainable environmental practices.
• Our strong support of local farmers and business vendors — more than 4,100 products and over $5,000,000 in sales to those farmers and vendors last year — helps strengthen the local economy by keeping more money circulating right where we live. Add to that our excellent staff wages and benefits! In sum, in 2017, 48 cents of every customer dollar spent went to pay staff, local farmers, and local producers.

What’s more, our efforts to build sustainable communities go far beyond the local level. Both our FLOWER healthy food access program and our Diversity & Inclusion initiatives have attained strong reputations on the regional and national levels! We’re routinely offered up as examples of what co-ops can do to create more sustainable, inclusive, and just communities. More and more, other food cooperatives who want to learn about these initiatives and create similar programs in their co-ops are contacting us for support. It’s an honor to extend our efforts to so many others intent on more effectively confronting economic and social injustice, working just as we are to end the cycle of oppression in their communities.

Observed internationally on the first Saturday in July, Co-ops Day often coincides with Independence Day celebrations here in the United States. Based on the principle of “one member, one vote,” co-ops reflect American ideals of democracy, mutual self-help, and equality.

“The co-operative model is unique in that it empowers people to work together to meet their needs though jointly owned, democratically governed businesses,” said Erbin Crowell, NFCA Executive Director. “It should come as no surprise that co-ops have been part of American history from our beginnings and continue to play a key role in building vibrant and sustainable local communities, and a stronger, more resilient economy that works for everyone.”