Many people are confused about what sets a cooperative business or organization apart from their same-sector counterparts.
The most important differentiators are participation and sustainability. Quite simply, a co-op is managed by its members and a co-op’s mission is to sustain and manage its business in the best social and economic interests of its members.
According to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), cooperative enterprises worldwide currently employ 250 million people and generate 2.2 trillion U.S. dollars in turnover while providing the essential services and infrastructure society needs to thrive. Cooperatives cover a wide array of commerce and advocacy business sectors including banking, retail, tourism, utilities and housing.
There are more than 250 Co-ops and Credit Unions in Vermont. Together, Vermont’s co-ops have more than two billion dollars in annual revenues and more than 300,000 member owners. Vermont’s cooperatives include credit unions like Opportunities Credit Union and VSECU, the Mad River Glen ski area, Cabot Creamery and City Market/Onion River Co-op, Burlington’s thriving downtown natural foods store.
All co-ops are guided by seven internationally recognized principles :
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Economic Participation by Members
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training and Information
- Cooperation Among Cooperatives
- Concerns for Community
The Energy Co-op of Vermont was founded in 2001 with a unique mission: To deliver heating fuel and provide home heating services to its members while advocating for energy efficiency and home improvements that reduce the use of fossil fuels. Our cooperative model can be demonstrated here:
The fuel dealer/efficiency advocacy that the Energy Co-op represents is a relatively new business model which is gaining increasing attention in view of the Vermont’s goal to transition to 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. In Vermont, where 59% of homes are still heated with oil, the Energy Co-op is already serving over 2,500 homeowners who benefit directly from new super-efficient technology and a wide range of home energy upgrades. In the past two years, we have launched new initiatives to provide solar hot water systems, heat pumps for space and water heating, low-cost energy audits and an innovative Zero Energy Now program for our members. Because we are a not-for-profit cooperative, our members can be confident that we are recommending home energy solutions that will give them the best return on their efficiency investments.
We have also partnered with another cooperative, the Opportunities Credit Union, to promote the Heat Saver loan program, providing low-interest loans that often pay for themselves with the savings on energy bills.
The ICA states, “As member-owned, member-run and member-serving businesses, cooperatives empower people to collectively realize their economic aspirations, while strengthening their social and human capital and developing their communities.” The Energy Co-op’s ability to build on the trust and confidence of our member-owners is the key to making our cooperative business thrive in the future. Our ultimate goal is to provide the goods and services our members need to lock in reduce their fossil fuel use, lower their carbon emissions and help heal our planet.