Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a leader company in the Canadian outdoor retail field that I have always had lots of admiration for. So one time in preparation for an informational interview with a MEC Sustainability Manager, I went to MEC website to do my research. I was very very impressed with the level of transparency MEC is at just from the information available on their website.
MEC’s co-op model entails sole investment pooled from the members, and the business exists to provide its member with value instead of shareholders. My thought is hence the extra transparency level they have to achieve throughout every single aspect of the business, from governance model, to product development, to sustainability commitment.
The 7 co-op principles of MEC are:
1. Voluntary and open membership
2. Democratic member control
3. Member economic participation
4. Autonomy and independence
5. Education, training, and information
6. Co-operation among co-operatives
7. Concern for community
MEC’s vision and values have guided them through over 40 years of business as a co-operative model. In the 2013 Annual Report, CEO David Lavistour mentioned value as MEC’s main focus of the year: “It means we future passions for active outdoor lifestyles by providing easy access to leading-edge products and an inclusive and inspiring community. We enable everyone to learn, meet, recreate and enjoy their own active lifestyle outdoors, regardless of the activity, setting or their level of expertise.” It was fascinating to me that with a slow-growth model, MEC was able to achieve more future-oriented goals instead of short-term profit gain. MEC addressed many of the social and environmental issues through their supply chain, by not externalizing the environmental and social damage to the developing countries.
The co-op model and MEC as an outdoor retailer have attracted many like-minded members that share the same value with what MEC stands for, which builds a strong community that I’m very fond of. They are a community of outdoor enthusiasts and also environmental advocates. Although the democratic nature of co-op model raises some challenges for MEC as a business. The loudest group is often the one that will get what they want, and with 3.3 million members across the country MEC could not engage a large number of members to support their community.
I have trust in MEC in contributing to a slow-growth yet sustainable economy, regarding the ecological limits we are facing. Although private business model poses different advantages, I hope to see more support to co-operative model like MEC in Canada.