The event saw the participation of a big number of industrialists, EU institutions’ leaders, high level policy makers, and other stakeholders.

In the framework of the largest flagship event of European Industry, CECOP – CICOPA Europe was selected among many Europe-wide organisations to hold a parallel session on circular economy.

As our Secretary General Diana Dovgan stated when interviewed by the Commission, EU Industry’s best asset is the entrepreneurial diversity: cooperatives active in industry bring an added value to production processes and, most of all, to internal governance. CECOP’s participation in the Industry Days was both yet another acknowledgement of the cooperative model as a “full member” of the European economic dynamism and a recognition of the role our industrial cooperatives play in the circular economy. Cooperatives are value-based, produce value and contribute to the well-being of the communities where they are established: for these and other reasons, they embrace the challenges of the circular economy by constantly innovating both in terms of technological development and cooperation with partners.

In order to bring testimonies from the ground and present the audience of our session with concrete examples about the role industrial cooperatives play in the circular economy, speakers from Italy, France, Spain and Denmark were invited. Stefano Baiguera, Sales Manager, represented Cooperativa Scalvenzi (Italy), one of the oldest workers’ buyouts in Italy. In the 1990’s, the production of agricultural machinery proved to be no longer viable and the workers decided to shift the production and bet on emerging industry at that time: environmental hygiene (compacting and waste management). Scalvenzi (2018 turnover: 11 million EUR) employs today 30 people, 20 of whom are members of the cooperative.

The cooperative, together with their partners form ME Group, created the first electric scooter completely designed and produced in Italy. By doing this they fearlessly take up the challenges to stand out in a highly competitive electric mobility market and to stress out all environmental advantages of the product (e.g. zero emissions, no noise, possibility to remove and recharge battery everywhere).

Alban Eraclas, Director of Performance, Quality and HSE, Acome (France) spoke on behalf of the largest industrial cooperative group in France. Acome (1760 employees; 2018 turnover 504 million EUR) is active in the cable, wire and synthetic tubes market and it is present in France, Brazil, Morocco and China. Founded in 1932, Acome’s commitment to sustainable development in nowadays three-fold: minimising the footprint and reducing waste production; a particular focus on people; and commitment to the sustainable development of their local community. A few forward-looking examples of this engagement towards people and local community are the “Familles à énergie positive” challenge which aims at supporting ACOME workers’ families to reduce their household energy consumption, and the “Normandie Forêver” initiative which foresees the reforestation in Normandy (rather than in other parts of the world) to compensate for carbon emissions.

Mondragon Corporation, one of the biggest business groups in Spain (among the first 10 companies with a 2018 industry sales of 5132 million EUR and 73635 employees), was represented by Julian Gallardo, New Business Development Manager. Active in four main areas (industry, retail, knowledge and finance), Mondragon focuses on people, work, cooperation and solidarity. With 128 production plants all around the world, the focus on innovation is their strategic asset (important investments are made in R&D, 153 million EUR). Sustainability is pursued through products innovation, reduction of waste and raw materials, etc. One of the several circular economy activities the Mondragon group is involved in is the joint remanufacturing initiative from the cooperative Sare Teknika, the Emmaus foundation and the business association Acede: by opening a plant that collects dismissed electrical appliances, repairs them and re-sell them, the initiative ensured the creation of 24 new jobs in 3 years, mostly for people at risk of exclusion.

Balder Johansen, Manager at LOGIK & CO (Denmark), presented his worker cooperative which is the biggest construction cooperative in Denmark. LOGIK & CO is entirely composed by worker-members who earn the same salary and benefit from the same social security rights. Aware of the fact the 40% of the pollution in Denmark is generated by construction, LOGIK & CO prides itself on providing new sustainable solutions in this field. Moreover, the flipside of sustainability (i.e. social bonds), is ensured by LOGIK & CO’s programmes for workers’ health and well-being, financed by the cooperative reinvestments. In this framework, LOGIC & CO’s approach is mainly focused on re-investing profit for improving safety and healthy working condition through security and ergonomically sound workplace environments, in order to prevent workers from injuring themselves and wearing out.

Based on the discussion, we can outline that the cooperative business model, by its own nature, integrate the circular way of production (as opposed to the linear one): the characterizing feature of the cooperative model (capital accumulation and inter-generational transmission) are thus natural drivers of the circular economy. Moreover, all speakers stressed out the importance of investing in workers’ training and upskilling: this is one of the essential ingredients that allows industrial cooperatives to embrace and practice innovation and be ready for new markets without threatening existing jobs.

CECOP’s President Giuseppe Guerini addressed the audience with encouraging conclusions for our sector. He reiterated that industrial cooperatives are not a negligible actor in today’s economy. “We have many cooperatives who combine innovation, competitiveness, sustainability and inclusion. Cooperatives are the strongest way to inject democracy within the economy and, consequently, in the whole society. If we don’t achieve democracy in the economic environment we cannot achieve democracy in any other field”