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  4. Can cooperatives lead the way to a climate-friendly economy?

Can cooperatives lead the way to a climate-friendly economy?

Italian research project studying coops' circular-economy potential

(ANSA) - ROME, MAY 20 - Scientists have warned us that the current economic model, based on the chewing up and spitting out of energy and resources like there's no tomorrow, has put the world on a fast track to climate catastrophe.
    The logical response is for humanity to move to a 'circular' model, in which things are shared, leased, reused, repaired, refurbished and recycled for as long as possible, maximizing the life cycles of products in order to slow the use of natural resources, cut waste, reduce habitat and biodiversity loss, slash energy consumption and bring down greenhouse-gas emissions.
    Bringing about such a transformation is, of course, a huge challenge.
    Corporations' primary aim is maximize profits for their shareholders. The 'linear' economic model based on a take-make-consume-throw-away pattern has served them well on this front. So it is probably unrealistic to expect them to be on the front line of bringing about this change.
    Cooperatives, on the other hand, may be well-placed to lead the way towards a circular economy, given their specific business structure.
    Although they often operate in the private sector, the fact that they are owned and controlled by the clients or workers that they serve means they can balance the pursuit of profit with the wider needs of their members and the communities they belong to.
    "Cooperatives have been proven to be a form of enterprise that can support the efficient application of circular-economy strategies," Asia Guerreschi, a researcher for the University of Ferrara (Università di Ferrara), told ANSA.
    "Not only do they have the pre-existing values that make for the necessary mindset for a sustainable, circular-business model, they also feature other factors that other forms of enterprise may take for granted.
    "Cooperatives exist at the local level to bring about a specific change. Therefore, they are able to work with the community and its specific concerns.
    "In textiles, for example, a workers' cooperative can give fair employment to local people who work on garments and sell those garments on. This has been the case, especially in poorer countries. It has been the case for waste pickers too and with energy communities".
    Guerreschi is part of a team researching how cooperatives' distinctive form of governance can equip them for the circular-economy challenge, while also looking at the specific barriers they face regarding factors such as financing.
    The project, Climate Circular Coop, is coordinated by the University of Ferrara, AreaStudi Legacoop, the study unit of the Italian cooperatives' federation, and the Roma Tre University.
    "The primary aim is for the researchers involved to gather the necessary data to learn more about circular economy within the cooperative context," said Guerreschi, who is a Ph.D candidate, the founder of the Rethinking Climate non-profit devoted to sustainability.
    "It is fundamental that this research looks into the relationship between the social economy and how it inserts itself into the cooperative model - which sort of cooperative identity is the one that provides the support for the application of a social-circular model? "The additional aim of the project is to provide a network in order to close the gap between researchers, civil society, cooperatives, and other stakeholders, using a LinkedIn group to reinforce communication and provide a digital space for dissemination, via informal interviews to tell stories of the coops and stakeholders involved in the social economy and the circular economy".
    Guerreschi stressed that the circular economy is not intrinsically sustainable, although it can help businesses become so, on the condition that they devote attention and work to being sustainable" While the study focuses on cooperatives, Guerreschi stressed that moving to a circular approach is good for all businesses, even though many firms do not realize this yet.
    "In a circular society, an enterprise's automatic requirement is to consider the impact of its products on other stakeholders," she told ANSA.
    "This leads to a rethink of the impact on society and makes working together necessary, for example, with manufacturers collaborating with customers and suppliers to exchange information on questions such as renting items instead of purchasing.
    "We've observed a trend in the rise in firms preferring to make items using ecologically-aware methods under pressure from consumers' demands "This demonstrates that consumers have power and it can be a strong tool for an indirect nudge.
    "The academic literature has highlighted that a circular business model can bring higher competitiveness, create jobs, stimulate innovation, and boost growth".
    Researchers, cooperatives and experts interested in taking part in the Climate Circular Coop project can contact for more information or join the LinkedIn group to interact with other stakeholders. (ANSA).


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