The Co-operative Group has unveiled what it describes as the “most radical sustainability programme in UK corporate history”.

The retail group today (18 February) announced a rolling three-year plan to build a more “environmentally sound and just UK economy” through setting a series of targets across ethical finance, global poverty, animal welfare, social fairness, health and community enterprise.

In terms of its environmental goals, the Co-op has increased its target to reduce carbon emissions by 35% by 2017, having reduced its operational carbon emissions by 20% since 2006. It plans to become carbon neutral by 2012, with carbon offset solutions provided by a programme of international co-operative products. The company is also planning to divert the majority of operational waste away from landfill by 2013 as well as seeking to ban pesticides endosulfan and paraquat. It will also move palm oil and soya sourcing to a “sustainable footing” by 2011 and 2015, respectively.

The company will extend its Plan Bee campaign, and work to address the decline of additional ‘at risk’ pollinators and broaden its campaign against unconventional fossil fuels to encompass community energy – and reducing water consumption across its operations by 2013.

By 2013, some 90% of the primary comodities the Co-op sources from the developing world will be certified to Fairtrade standards. The retailer will also develop a range of projects to benefit producers that will take it “beyond Fairtrade”.

The group has also committed to ensuring that its Healthier Choice products will be no more expensive than standard equivalent lines and the nutritional content of Simply Value products will be at least as good as their standard equivalents.

The company has also said that it will ensure “good baseline standards” of animal welfare are applied across its own-brand range, which means that all shell eggs and egg ingredients are at least free-range, while it will improve welfare standards for dairy cows by developing a dedicated supply chain for milk, as well as “taking a lead on the issue of animal testing of cosmetic and household products”.

The Co-op chief executive Peter Marks said: “At a time when UK society is picking up the pieces from a recession exacerbated by corporate greed and speculation, we are seeking to show that there is another way. The plc model is not the only game in town. It is possible for business to embrace the efficiencies of the market economy and also the need for robust legislation to ensure that progress is sustainable and just.

“Taken together, we believe the measures and pledges set out in our Ethical Plan raise the bar on corporate sustainability. Over the next 10 years working with our customers, members, suppliers, staff and communities we believe we really can make Britain even better.”