Written by the CG Scop, French worker cooperative federation
Cooperatives pay special attention to sustainable growth that consumes less energy and natural resources. Due to their local rooting, collective governance and innovative projects more and more are entering this economic field.
Some experts suggest that this said field will create more than dozens of thousands of jobs. In certain sectors, worker cooperatives and social cooperatives are leaders such as carpooling and wood energy. Whether the ecological transition is at the core of their job or that new needs are pushing them to change their methods of work and production, cooperatives haven’t waited for the law on energetic transition or the organization of the cop 21 to answer the needs of global warming and sustainable development.

Waste management

 “Green growth is a good social and economic vector that creates jobs and wealth. It is what needs to be followed for the next 30 years”. If Etienne Wiroth, president of tri-vallées, is so convinced about this, it is because his cooperative from Albertville has been developing activities that are the center of the ecological transition such as waste management, cleaning of green parks and soft mobility, for now more than 20 years.
“Our first activity was oriented towards recycling and selective sorting, explains Etienne Wiroth, first for textile and glass and as the years went by for electronic waste and ski equipment. We were ahead of the circular economy concept that integrates the life-cycle of waste instead of burning or burying it. Such activities can only be carried out in cooperation with local enterprises and collectivities. “Tri-vallées is a member of the zero net energy territory created by the Ademe, the French environment and energy management agency”, continues Etienne Wiroth. Therefore we try to work with other enterprises and stakeholders to create local energy.
For example, we built Horizon, a future anaerobic digestion unit to recycle bio-waste from our local partners. Cooperatives are used to working collectively and it is an advantage for them concerning these themes and their ability to answer to public markets. The energetic transition will without a doubt create jobs. Tri vallées has 110 employees, 170 if you count the entire AART group that is composed of Tri-vallées and other affiliated companies like Scop Alpes Paysage, dedicated to the environment or Scic Spad, involved in at-home services. Tri-vallées is also an integration enterprises, Etienne Wiroth believes that at least a third of this type of enterprises are involved in the ecological transition, and among them many are cooperatives.


Fuel wood

 It is from a circular economy and sustainable energy standpoint that ERE43, a design office from Yssingeaux, has been fighting for the ecological transition for now many years. At the origins of the Scic (cooperative society of collective interest) created in 2007, one finds a collective of Haute-Loire inhabitants committed to energy and climate change. Facing challenges, we wanted to act, on the scale of the territory, says Jacques Villevieille, manager of the Scic. We are mainly involved in the branch of fuel wood. We figure out which collectivities are in need of a heating plant and we encourage them to install a modul’R heating system that can heat up to 3 buildings. We also take care of the wood refill. All of that has created a local short cycle supporting the energetic transition. Ere 43, with 4 employees, has already installed 17 heating plants in the department for private individuals, a hotel and a gym, that can all become members of the SCIC.

An economic need

The worker cooperative Adfine, a design office from Millau, also takes care of communal buildings but not only … François Amieux, manager of the cooperative, created in 2012, has his own definition of ecological transition : “being able to live in a world where we mind the environment, being able to do more with less”. Adfine enforces the principles of circular economy. “We help enterprises and local collectivities, continues François Amieux, to optimize their incoming stream (electricity, heat …) and the outgoings (waste, manufactured products …). With what tool? The carbon balance, the analysis of the life cycle of products, the energy diagnostic, the ISO14001 certification. Our clients have economic needs to which awareness is added on. Like many other cooperatives involved in the transition, Adfine is doing well, it doubled its number of employees, this year, from 4 to 8.

Cooperatives and ecology: the involvement of the movement

 Following the resolutions of the Marseilles congress in 2012 CG Scop has put in place an RSE commission that works on understanding the role of worker cooperatives and social cooperatives in the ecological transition. An analysis carried out by CG Scop in 2015 estimates that around 200 cooperatives, in all sectors except construction, are actively taking part in the energetic transition: advice about the environment and sustainable development, renewable energy, organic food, short cycle, wood fuel, and car sharing. This all represents 7.2% of the cooperatives and participatory societies that are employing over 1200 employees and generating a turnover of around 151 million of euros. In the construction sector, numerous cooperatives have been involved, for a long time now, in eco construction and energetic efficiency.

They can, since June 2015, hold the RSE label, created by their federation in collaboration with Afnor. The waste industry and recycling groups represent 33 cooperatives and employ 2 300 employees for a turnover of 114 million of euros. Globally, the RSE study carried out in 2014 among members of CG Scop shows that 41% of cooperatives declare having developed eco-products, 36% say being involved in environmental management, half have started a process of waste recycling and one out of three desires to better energy efficiency. You can read the full article in the last issue of Partager