by Alex Gyori, General Manager
Guide to the Creation of a Regenerative Market and Marketplace—First Steps
In April 2002, the Board of Directors of the Brattleboro Food Co-op invited several people from an environmental group called Natural Logic to speak at that year’s annual meeting. Board members were beginning the process of educating themselves as well as shareholders about green building and sustainable communities. Their desire was to develop a framework of thinking that would go beyond the usual green design approach of doing less damage, to a more substantive one of regenerating the health of the larger network of interconnected systems. “The inter- relationships of the various systems in nature – forests, soil, habitat, water, and more – provide us with clean air, potable water, healthy soil and therefore our food. Our buildings, cities, and lifestyles impact the interconnected- ness and the health of these systems. Simply slowing down the damage to these systems by creating a new building that is more resource efficient misses the more significant issue supporting the health of these life support functions.” [Preparing the Ground for a Regenerative Market and Marketplace, Page 3, Natural Logic, Inc.] It has been the Board and management’s aspiration to take the co-op as far along on this path as possible.
Over the past four years, therefore, Brattleboro Food Co- op’s Community Engagement process has provided many opportunities to educate and to hear from our shareholders, staff, managers, board members, creative thinkers, and many other stakeholders and like-minded organizations. All of this interaction has resulted in a richer understanding of our co-op, and a more definite idea of what it could become in the future. The following report gathers together all of the major ideas, presented in order of importance as established in the recent shareholder survey.
All of the principal concepts in this document will provide guidance to the co-op on the long road towards the creation of a regenerative market and marketplace. Every initiative will be decided upon and implemented according to its contribution to organizational and environmental sustainability.
The governance policies of the Brattleboro Food Co-op are unequivocally in alignment with what has been learned through the Community Engagement process. We will begin this report, therefore, with a review of the Ends Policies and management’s interpretation of those policies.
II. Ends Policies and Management Interpretation
Ends policies are governance policies, reflecting shareholder values and formulated by the Co-op’s Board of Directors. Ends policies state the purposes of the Brattleboro Food Co-op: What we are trying to accomplish, for whom, at what cost. In the following section, the current policies appear in italicized prints.
- Reasonably priced food and products with an emphasis on healthy, locally grown, organic, and fairly traded goods.Interpretation: We provide a product line that conforms to shareholders’ expressed priorities and that is appropriately priced to provide enough revenue for the Co-op to accomplish its purposes in alignment with stated values and Board directives for the Co-op’s fiscal health.We give preference to natural and organic food products that are grown in our local region, in order to support the economic viability of our local growers and producers.For products that must be purchased from outside our local and regional area, we use Fair Trade principles as major criteria.
- A welcoming community marketplaceInterpretation: We provide a friendly environment that provides good customer service and that fosters a sense of belonging and community.
- A regenerative business that has a net positive environmental impactInterpretation: We recognize that this is a long-term objective; therefore, we are committed to improving our operations to increasingly offset energy usage both in materials and fuel consumption until we are at the point at which we are contributing positively to a regenerative, sustainable environment.
- A strong local economyInterpretation: The Co-op presents to our community a fiscally strong business that contributes substantially to a thriving economy in our local area.
- Relevant information about food and related products, the environment, and the Cooperative Values and PrinciplesInterpretation: Our store provides information that informs shareholders about food and food-related environmental issues and that shows how the products the Co-op carries and cooperative business are related and relevant to their expectations.
- Reasonable access to participation in the cooperativeInterpretation: There is no single approach to participation that will satisfy all shareholders. We, therefore, provide a variety of ways to use the Co-op that include but are not limited to shopping, new shareholder information packets, seminars sand workshops, the newsletter and letters to the editor, website, surveys, feedback system, shareholder work programs, serving on the Board, and shareholder input and discussion at regular Board meetings, as well as annual meetings.
III. The Six Principle Themes
These themes were derived from priorities expressed by our shareholders in the survey that was conducted in January/February 2006 and provided the source of the preceding Ends policy.
- Healthy Food. Goal: to champion healthy food (Ends 2)
This is the top shareholder priority. The Co-op must continue to carry healthy food and to educate itself and its shareholders about issues related to food. This includes food production, healthy diets, and how to choose and prepare healthy foods. We must examine our product lines to ensure that the store offers the products the shareholders require, with an emphasis on organically produced foods.
- Local Economy. Goal: proactively contribute in a material way to the strengthening of our local economy (Ends 1, 2, 4)
We will do this by increasing our ability to purchase foods and related products from local producers and local food related enterprises that keep monetary resources in the community. We plan to support community initiatives, and create and take advantage of other opportunities to enhance the activity in our local economy.
- Environmental Responsibility. Goal: impact minimally, restore, regenerate (Ends 4)
This is the underlying theme of our 100-year vision. Sourcing our foods and related products locally reduces the distance food has to travel to reach the consumer, and it is generally accepted that smaller producers tend to cause less negative environmental impact. Operating the store in a way that has less and less negative environmental impact and that helps to restore and regenerate our environment is the ultimate goal.We will approach this from five different aspects: education ourselves, product selection, develop a more efficient facility, redevelop our property, and explore and adopt various other approaches to reducing our environmental impact.
- Outlying Communities. Goal: maximize service to our outlying communities, minimize environmental impact (Ends 1-2)
We will research alternative service delivery modes to reach the smaller markets that the Co-op currently serves. In this way we hope to expand service and healthy food options to shareholders and other people who live farther away. This will help relieve pressure on our downtown location, reduce traffic, and help retain a human scale to our business.
- BFC’s Role in the Community. Goal: ensure that BFC is an effective partner in creating a sustainable economy (Ends 3-6)
By creating stronger ties with local and like-minded organizations and businesses, we will enhance the Co- op’s visibility and allow substantial contribution to a healthier community environment. We also will direct our attention to the development of creative new approaches to providing increased access to healthy food for all.
- Upgrade Physical Plant and Operations. BFC goal: attaining maximum achievable efficiency and excellent customer service to shareholders and other Co-op users (Ends 1 & 4-6)
The objectives are multi-layered. A more efficient operation will help lower overhead costs, reduce impact on the surrounding environment and attain the stated Ends policy of the Brattleboro Food Coop.We will study all aspects of the physical plant and review and revise all current operational policies in relation to the long-term vision as stated above. We will evaluate the feasibility of other ideas relating to the physical layout of the Co-op, including cooperative affordable housing, cooperative childcare, as well as other possible off-site support facilities.
This article appeared in Food For Thought, October 2006