Advocacy Activities at National Co+op Grocers

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) advocates on behalf of food co-ops and their communities to further our mission and ends. The following guidelines are developed with input and feedback from an Advocacy Advisory Committee made up of NCG co-op representatives. These guidelines define the scope of NCG’s advocacy activities and help inform NCG positions on public policy as well as operational decisions. NCG influences progress in areas identified in this page by these means:

  • Providing NCG co-ops with resources, information and access to products that increase the sustainability of their operations and benefits to their communities
  • Advocating on federal policy to Congress and federal agencies
  • Funding partner organizations that can amplify our collective impact
  • Informing consumers on the issues

The following topic areas define the scope of NCG’s advocacy activities, both ongoing and aspirational. Like any organization, NCG’s resources are not unlimited, which means NCG staff prioritize efforts in those areas where we believe NCG can have the greatest positive impact given available resources and political realities. We recognize that progress may not be achieved in all areas in any given year.

Advocacy Topic Areas

Cooperative Business

NCG food co-ops operate with a cooperative business model based on international cooperative principles. Cooperative principles foster a business model that is socially just, participatory and committed to fairness and equity. NCG supports the cooperative business model in these ways:

  • Investing in cooperative supply chains; reporting co-ops’ aggregate sales of cooperatively produced products annually
  • Informing consumers about co-ops and the benefits of cooperation
  • Communicating the benefits of the cooperative business model to federal policymakers and advocating for policies that are inclusive of cooperative businesses

NCG is an active member of the National Cooperative Business Association, which advocates for all cooperatives across a variety of business sectors.

Back to list

Inclusive Economies

As cooperatives, NCG food co-ops are uniquely positioned to show leadership within our industry to support an inclusive economy. An inclusive economy creates opportunity for all people, regardless of any attribute of their identity or location of their birth, to live with dignity, to support themselves and their families and to make a contribution to their communities. We acknowledge food system workers’ rights to a safe workplace, livable wages and benefits, affordable health care, and in the case of migrant workers, decent and dignified housing. NCG supports inclusive economies in these ways:

  • Encouraging NCG co-op adoption of the Co-op Livable Wage and Benefits model; reporting progress annually
  • Supporting fair trade initiatives, both international and domestic; facilitating access to fair trade, Regenerative Organic Certified and Certified B Corp products through promotions, category management and merchandising support; prioritizing products that have been certified to the most rigorous possible standards
  • Supporting inclusive trade by identifying suppliers certified or classified as BIPOC, woman, LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities and veteran-owned; providing promotions, category management and merchandising support; reporting co-ops’ aggregate sales annually

NCG is a Certified B Corporation. B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Additionally, we’ve pledged to achieve a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to increase financial support of smallholder, fair trade and producer co-ops by 20% by 2030.

Back to list

Racial Equity

The food system in which NCG food co-ops participate is racist — built upon stolen land and dependent upon Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) workers earning low wages or otherwise working in vulnerable conditions. Due to environmental racism and diet-related disparities, among other factors, BIPOC communities disproportionately contend with adverse health outcomes. NCG recognizes that racial equity is urgent and long overdue, and that we must act with intention to avoid a complicit role in the food system that food co-ops have long sought to improve. NCG supports racial equity in these ways:

  • Tracking key metrics for racial equity in co-op communities; reporting progress annually
  • Providing training and resources to support NCG food co-ops’ efforts to improve racial equity outcomes for staff, members, suppliers and community; encouraging co-ops to make institutional changes that support full participation and shared power among diverse racial, cultural and economic groups in determining the co-op’s mission, structure, constituency, policies and practices.
  • Funding BIPOC-led organizations, as well as initiatives by historically white-led organizations that improve racial equity

In 2018, NCG began work with TMI Consulting, Inc. to develop NCG staff understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion concepts, which inform our advocacy for racial equity. We evaluate NCG advocacy and sustainability activities, including funding decisions, federal policy advocacy, and resources developed for co-ops, to ensure they help counter white supremacist narratives. NCG commits to actively raising up BIPOC voices and holding our partner organizations accountable for doing the same.

Back to list

Food Justice

NCG recognizes racism and poverty — and the federal policies that perpetuate them — as root causes of food insecurity. NCG seeks to balance the alleviation of immediate suffering among those who are hungry with prioritizing efforts that address the root causes of food insecurity. We acknowledge all people’s rights to food sovereignty: nutritious, healthy and culturally appropriate foods produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right of communities to define their own food and agriculture systems. NCG works to end food insecurity and contribute to food sovereignty in these ways:

  • Tracking key metrics for food insecurity in co-op communities; reporting progress annually
  • Encouraging food co-op donations to, as well as other forms of partnership and collaboration with, community food pantries
  • Expanding and improving competitive pricing programs, such as Co+op Basics
  • Advocating for well-funded federal nutrition programs; encouraging co-op adoption of these programs
  • Funding organizations working towards long-term systemic change by addressing root causes of racism and poverty
  • Recognizing that hearing the perspectives of people with limited purchasing power is a prerequisite to meeting their needs; committing to sharing information and resources that reflect active listening to the communities we wish to serve

NCG’s ongoing support for operational excellence among NCG food co-ops is foundational to our collective ability to alleviate food insecurity. Operational excellence leads to efficiencies that allow co-ops to offer affordable prices while fairly compensating staff and suppliers. As NCG food co-ops continue to support local food and farming, and by deepening our efforts to achieve racial equity, we contribute to our communities’ food sovereignty, a powerful antidote to food insecurity.

Back to list

Local Food and Farming

NCG food co-ops are anchor institutions in their communities, sourcing from local farmers, ranchers, artisans and other producers, strengthening the local economy and contributing to their communities’ food sovereignty. As humanity encounters a challenging new normal brought on by the pandemic and climate crisis, food co-ops’ longtime investments in local agriculture are providing a model for nimble, resilient local supply chains that can help communities survive and thrive. NCG supports food co-ops’ commitment to local food and farming in the following ways:

  • Empowering food co-ops to focus on local supplier relationships by maintaining national purchasing contracts for core products and supplies; reporting co-ops’ aggregate sales of locally produced products annually
  • Providing resources to help co-ops build strong relationships with producers and farmers in their communities by recording and sharing institutional knowledge
  • Advocating for federal policies that invest in local agricultural development, expand local processing infrastructure, and level the playing field for small, mid-sized and BIPOC producers, prioritizing USDA Certified Organic producers
  • Collaborating with family farmer organizations whose on-the-ground experience can help inform sound federal policy and foster sustainable farming practices
  • Sharing resources and facilitating networking among co-ops to support their efforts to strengthen the local food system through local policy, planning and collaboration

NCG sponsors the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), which works to bring local food sourcing, school gardens and food and agriculture education into educational settings. Like food co-ops, NFSN is committed to racial equity, advocating for federal nutrition programs and working to create robust local farming systems, while also providing children with nutritious foods and connecting families with their local food suppliers.

Back to list

Organic Certification

Organic food and farming are a longstanding priority and passion for NCG food co-ops, many of which played a role in the establishment of the USDA National Organic Program by being vocal advocates for the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. This federal law governs a uniquely democratic process that grants the public the opportunity to assist with the continuous improvement of organic regulations, ensuring they meet consumer expectations and earn consumer trust.

NCG values USDA Organic certification because it represents a federally regulated, transparent and regenerative food system that addresses consumer interests across a holistic range of attributes. Consumers who wish to avoid pesticides, GMOs, added hormones and antibiotics, promote animal welfare, protect the climate and foster biodiversity can look to the USDA Certified Organic seal for assurance that a product meets these standards. NCG recognizes that strong standards are foundational to the USDA Certified Organic seal’s market success. NCG supports organic production and strong standards in the following ways:

  • Tracking NCG food co-ops’ USDA Certified Organic sales; reporting progress annually
  • Facilitating access to USDA Certified Organic products through promotions and category management support
  • Providing resources that support a culture of organic integrity at food co-ops where staff understand and utilize Good Organic Retail Practices and consumers have the information they need to understand the value proposition of the USDA Certified Organic label
  • Advocating for strong organic standards by informing federal policymakers of the critical role of the National Organic Standards Board and public process in maintaining the market for organic foods; supporting consistent, strong enforcement of organic standards, domestically and internationally, and opposing policies and practices that weaken those requirements
  • Advocating for federal policies that support organic food production, including protections for organic farmers from inadvertent environmental contaminants; research to develop regionally adapted seeds and breeds well-suited to organic systems; and, organic supply chain infrastructure expansion that supports small, mid-size and BIPOC producers and decentralizes processing
  • Advocating for federal funding for diversified organic farming on par with funding reserved for conventional and commodity agriculture so that organic food can be more affordable to all people while paying farmers and farmworkers fairly to produce it
  • Partnering with organizations to increase Certified Organic acres by preserving existing organic farmland, transitioning conventional acreage to organic, supporting new organic farmers, and training farmers in regenerative organic practices

NCG is a co-founder and participant in the National Organic Coalition and member of the Organic Trade Association, bringing the perspective of consumer-owned food co-ops to bear on national advocacy efforts to strengthen and continually improve the national organic standards.

Back to list

Climate Action

NCG acknowledges that the climate crisis is an existential threat to humankind and poses a significant risk to the food supply. NCG supports efforts to reverse global warming backed by rigorous scientific consensus, such as reducing our operations’ greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, refrigerants and wasted food. Additionally, we recognize the potential of healthy soils to store carbon through regenerative-organic methods that support soil microbiota for long-term sequestration. NCG is responding to the climate crisis in the following ways:

  • Encouraging NCG food co-ops to calculate and reduce their operations’ greenhouse gas emissions; promoting efforts to reduce food waste through operational efficiency and consumer information
  • Showing leadership within our supply chain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, foster regenerative-organic production practices and prepare for climate-related supply disruptions
  • Advocating for federal policy that strengthens local food systems, preserves USDA Certified Organic’s continued role as a solution to the climate crisis; supports regenerative-organic farming research and adoption, and incentivizes significant reductions in the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • Supporting mitigation strategies that achieve long-term, verifiable carbon sequestration, encourage ecosystem benefits, reduce net pollution, and do not perpetuate environmental racism
  • Targeting disaster relief and recovery efforts to the most vulnerable populations, emphasizing cooperative development and the restoration of a safe, sufficient and culturally appropriate food supply

NCG participates in the Climate Collaborative and has made commitments in the areas of policy, agriculture and food waste. In 2012, NCG began offsetting a portion of its own carbon emissions and has planted and/or protected more than 1.8 million native trees in the Co+op Forest, part of a United Nations accredited program. We’ve pledged to achieve a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to offset our Scope 1 (natural gas and ground travel) and 2 (electricity) carbon emissions annually through at least 2030.

Back to list

Environmental Responsibility

NCG believes a healthy environment is a prerequisite for healthy people and a sustainable, resilient food system, and promotes efforts to improve the positive environmental impacts of the food industry. To that end, NCG encourages practices among our community of co-ops, manufacturers and distributors that support healthy, resilient systems and that regenerate natural capital. NCG supports food co-ops’ efforts to improve our environmental impact in the following ways:

  • Encouraging active co-op participation in Co+efficient, which helps co-ops measure, analyze and improve their environmental and social impacts
  • Providing recommendations for sustainable retrofits and footprint reduction strategies
  • Promoting waste reduction and alternative packaging at the manufacturer and distributor level, particularly, reduction of plastics; working with industry partners to research and provide the most environmentally friendly options possible in NCG programs/services, including tangible items such as branded packaging
  • Partnering with BIPOC-led organizations working at the national level to reduce health disparities resulting from environmental racism

Through NCG, food co-ops have opportunities to track their progress on key environmental and social metrics by participating in Co+efficient, which helps co-ops measure, analyze and improve their impacts.

Back to list

Engaged Citizens, Vibrant Communities

As democratic, community-owned grocery stores, food co-ops are uniquely well positioned to engage citizens in their communities and improve quality of life in their neighborhoods. NCG supports co-ops in engaging their communities in the following ways:

  • Empowering NCG food co-ops to direct more attention to local product sourcing, community wellness and local economic benefit by providing tools and resources that improve operational efficiency
  • Sharing data that helps co-ops understand the demographic and socioeconomic makeup of their communities
  • Advocating for product labeling that improves consumers' ability to make informed choices
  • Informing the public about food system issues through food co-ops’ national media platforms; informing co-ops and their members of opportunities to engage in public policy
  • Sharing resources that help co-ops to be leaders in civic engagement and active participants in affecting positive change in their communities

NCG food co-ops are owned by more than 1.3 million people and contribute to community wellness and local economic benefit in more than 200 communities nationwide.

Back to list