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Cooperatives and Sustainable Communities

Cooperatives assist in building sustainable communities on three levels: socially, economically, and environmentally.

Social Sustainability

Communities prosper in spirit and resources and become "sustainable" when they meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to provide for themselves. Communities are sustainable when their members maintain or increase the community’s resources over time. We have all seen communities where capital resources have left; businesses have closed; storefronts are abandoned; natural resources have been taken; jobs are scarce; and products and services are hard to find. These communities have had their resources diminished overtime and their economies have been devastated.

Cooperatives help to build the skills of democracy and conflict resolution – skills that are needed in order to survive as human beings on this planet. When cooperative members work together to own and control their cooperative using the democratic process, they learn how to clearly state what they believe, how to listen carefully to the ideas and needs of others, how to build consensus on the best direction to pursue, and how to get the most important things done.

Economic Sustainability

Communities have a strong, sustainable economic life when money and resources are retained within the community. Cooperatives help increase a community’s resources because they are often locally owned and controlled. Jobs, profits, and resources stay in the community longer because the cooperative members who control the cooperative are community members. Communities are weakened when the businesses they have built with their labor and patronage move out of a community and take that value with them. Cooperatives are far less likely to decide to move south for cheaper labor when that decision would cause the decision makers to loose a business they depend on. When members depend on a cooperative to bring them products and services they need, jobs, or markets for their products, they are far less likely to move the business out of the community.

When people spend more of their money in locally controlled businesses, they experience the beneficial multiplier effect of having money circulate within their community. Cooperatives are often locally owned by people within a community. Locally owned businesses spend more payroll and operating dollars locally. Locally owned cooperatives return their profits to their local owners. When these dollars are re-circulated within the community, everyone benefits. Cooperatives help keep money in the community.

Environmental Sustainability

A cooperative is a type of business that allows generations to come to appreciate a healthy stock of environmental and natural resource assets.

Please be aware that we are not protecting the environment for future generations if we:

  • Require continual inputs of non-renewable resources.
  • Use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal.
  • Cause cumulative degradation of the environment.
  • Require resources in quantities that undermine other people's well-being.
  • Lead to the extinction of other life forms.

In the Northeast United States, cooperative members are doing remarkable things to help protect the environment for future generations. Some co-ops are dedicated to helping individuals adopt more responsible patterns of consumption, thereby consuming fewer resources. Others are supporting practices that return value to our environmental resources.

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