The Mid-Counties Co-operative - Finalist for the UBS Award for Education

Key highlights

Award Type: 

  • Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time
  • The Green Pioners initiative engages young people in sustainability awareness, while developing their employability skills
  • To date, the Midcounties Co-operative has supported 131 young people in becoming Green Pioneers
  • Green Pioneer projects have benefited the school too, saving it around £16,000 a year in saved energy costs
Finalist for the UBS Award for Education

The Midcounties Co-operative was keen to share its passion for defending the environment with the next generation. But more than that, it wanted to give them the skills that might be helpful in the long-term.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. It is difficult to take action without first understanding the issues, but more than that, action comes from developing an appreciation and respect for other people and the natural world. And if creative problem-solving is a desirable skill in the future workforce, sustainability is the perfect real-life scenario to develop it.

That’s what Green Pioneers aims to facilitate. In partnership with the Outward Bound Trust and schools, the Midcounties Co-operative engages young people in sustainability awareness, while developing their employability skills.

Becoming green pioneers

As part of a three-month programme, students go on a practical residential week at an Outward Bound Centre, followed by a number of classroom activities, along with a visit to a Midcounties Co-operative trading site where they get to complete a sustainability audit and test what they’ve learnt in a real workplace.

At the end, students deliver a presentation about their experiences to a group of senior managers at the business before launching an in-school sustainability project.

“Defending the environment is one of our key social goals and we were enthusiastic about the opportunity to create something that could share this passion with the next generation,” says Marnie Richards, the company’s young people engagement co-ordinator. “We created the programme involving a secondary school that, not only raised awareness of sustainability issues, but also encouraged young people to develop leadership and team building skills.”

The aim is to educate Year Nine students about the importance of looking after the environment, as well as developing students’ employability and life skills by enabling them to become adept at

Young people are the next generation. It is important to build young people’s skills so they have high quality skills for the future

- Marnie Richards - Young People Engagement Co-ordinator
creative problem solving, reflective observations and practical experimentation.  

Green Pioneers then develop a sustainability project that will continue to positively impact the environmental credentials of their school long after the programme has finished. Ensuring that all students successfully completed the programme and delivered a legacy project was indeed a challenge, says Richards.

Building a legacy whilst building skills

To date, the Midcounties Co-operative has supported 131 young people in becoming Green Pioneers, whose experience and involvement in legacy projects positively impact their wider school community. Each student has learned about sustainability issues, increased their awareness of co-operative values, and developed and improved a range of employability skills.

Since 2014, the firm has supported 52 work placements applications from the participating schools. For Walsall Academy, the programme has had several positive impacts, including better creative problem solving and resilience among the students that took part. And Green Pioneer projects have benefited the school too, saving it around £16,000 a year in saved energy costs.

Then there’s the increased PR from the Green Pioneers students from Walsall Academy who took part in a Sustainable Forestry Project in Ethiopia with a Co-operative, as well as an expedition to support Sherpa Co-operatives.

And it’s even helped the Midcounties Co-operative benefit from improved sustainability. Following the site audits, the students’ energy saving awareness campaign helped its Bloxwich Knave Food Store reduce energy usage by 8 per cent, saving over 60 tonnes of CO2.

“We believe it is socially responsible to invest in and develop young people”, says Richards. “Young people are the next generation. It is important to build young people’s skills so they have high quality skills for the future.”