The Co-operators: An Industry Change Agent

The Opportunity

The sustainability challenge, and most notably climate change, clearly presents a fundamental risk and opportunity for the insurance industry. In 2006, The Co-operators officially acknowledged these risks to their business and recognized an opportunity to play a crucial role in society’s transition to a sustainable future.

The Response

In 2006, The Co-operators invited The Natural Step Canada to help the organization integrate sustainability into its strategic planning. With a bold vision to be “a catalyst for a sustainable society,” The Co-operators charted a new strategic direction that would earn them the top spot on Corporate Knights Magazine’s 2011 list of “Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada.” The organization has also been named among “Canada’s Green 30” companies by Maclean’s Magazine, and has been listed consistently among the “50 Best Employers in Canada” by AON Hewitt.

The Process

In 2007, with a bold vision in place, the first phase of The Co-operators’ sustainability strategy was about laying the groundwork to embed sustainability within the organization. To that end, The Natural Step Canada worked in partnership with Strandberg Consulting to help The Co-operators develop a sustainability strategy that included an analysis of The Co-operators’ operations, stakeholders, and products and services using The Natural Step Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development. The assessment highlighted sustainability challenges, transition guidelines, and opportunities for innovation, giving The Co-operators a clear snapshot of their current reality.

With a sound understanding of their sustainability challenges and a baseline against which to evaluate progress, The Co-operators achieved a number of significant milestones that represented great strides in the early stages of their sustainability journey. By the end of 2011, the introduction of an electronic claims management system saw paperless claims increase from zero to 60%, audits conducted remotely moved from zero to 50%, the claims fleet was reduced by 61%, and kilometres travelled for claims were reduced by 32%.

The company then turned its attention toward how it could achieve its vision to become a catalyst for a sustainable society. With assistance from The Natural Step Canada, they developed a 2011-2014 Sustainability Strategy that outlined six key focus areas that The Co-operators have labeled: Our People, Our Clients, Our Governance & Operations, Our Investments, Our Relationships, and Our Public Voice. These focus areas have been defined specifically to support the achievement of The Co-operators’ vision of success, serving as a strong example of the strategic process of “backcasting” that is fundamental to The Natural Step’s approach to sustainability.

Other notable outcomes that have resulted from the partnership between The Co-operators and The Natural Step Canada since 2006 include: the development of a tool to assess the sustainability impacts of various insurance products, the development of a one-hour bilingual eLearning course on sustainability for employee training, and ongoing co-leadership in delivering IMPACT! The Co-operators Youth Program for Sustainability Leadership across Canada.

Through the ongoing integration of sustainability into its governance, operations, culture, communications, and products and services, The Co-operators continues to establish its role, purpose, and reputation as a groundbreaking insurance company that is affecting meaningful change toward sustainability.

The Feedback

Having The Natural Step’s framework, principles, and planning process gave us the rigor we needed to come out with a strong sustainability policy and vision. We really had the opportunity to embed this within the organization.”

-Barbara Turley-McIntyre, Director of Sustainability & Corporate Citizenship, The Co-operators

Learn more about The Natural Step Canada’s Service Path for Sustainable Business and how we can help your business develop a bold sustainability vision, strategy, and action plan. Please contact us to discuss your unique needs.