Worldwide, the cooperative enterprise sector’s member-owners account for nearly 12 percent of humanity and last year the top 300 co-ops generated $2.14 trillion in business.

“As enterprises based on values and principles, [cooperatives] put fairness and equality first, allowing people to create sustainable enterprises that generate long-term jobs and prosperity. Managed by producers, users or workers, cooperatives are run according to the ‘one member, one vote’ rule.”

In general, directors are unpaid, elected by members, and live locally. (Some highly regulated co-ops like credit unions and electric utilities may have more specialized board members.)

Cooperatives are democratically controlled by and for their members based on a one member, once vote principle and measure success on a triple bottom line of financial, social and environmental accountability.

Thus, it’s easy to see why the cooperative economic model has presented a threat to modern, speculative, greed-based capitalism (as opposed to early forms of socially motivated investment). But do not mistake it for communism or socialism. Its lynchpin is ‘responsibility’: doing for ourselves instead of waiting for a hand-out, -up or -down. And doing together what could not possibly be accomplished working alone.

Best of all, any group of people can form an action-based strategy that is cooperative: local food buying clubs and neighborhood watch groups are two examples.


Here’s another: back in the day, property owners in New England were responsible for maintaining the roads that bordered their land. Imagine taking responsibility for filling our potholes ourselves! If government supplied tools and materials we could be out there saving our tires, axles and backbones.

We could do so much more: clear drainage systems, prune trees that threaten our utility infrastructure, plan how to meet growing climate emergencies, form work parties to bulk buy materials and weatherize and insulate our aging buildings.

We could form co-ops on bicycles to collect compost (see Providence, Rhode Island) and create household gardens to help owners grow their own food to supplement local farmers’ offerings.

We could form daycare and school co-ops to use parent-power to replace the declining teacher populations. We could form equipment and tool co-ops to share expensive items used only a few times a year (snow blowers, lawn mowers, table saws).

We could share vehicles, giving everyone in the neighborhood access to a truck, a van, an SUV, a compact. We could open local gyms in garages and use the energy generated to charge batteries.

Thriving examples of most of the above already exist, and co-ops, not being competitive, share information generously with start-up groups.


Canning co-ops are another idea borrowed from the past: shared equipment and knowledge to put up local farmers’ and our own food to help us get through the winters.

While worker and consumer co-ops are a powerful tool to help us supply our own needs and aspirations, many of the above do not requires incorporating as a business. What’s needed is a group of people willing to work together for a single purpose, putting aside their differences. In a society that cultivates individualism and competition, this can be a challenge.

But the professional co-op development community has an ever-larger toolbox of methods and information to help. After all, in an economic model that does not need to keep a business growing like a cancerous tumor, and whose volunteer, local board of directors is not legally bound to maximize profits, but is instead tasked with seeking success financially, socially and environmentally, with co-ops it is literally, “the more the merrier.”

– Special to the Press Herald

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: