Buying local is touted as the best way to be environmentally friendly while supporting local communities at the same time. By purchasing food and other goods that are produced locally, consumers help stimulate their regional economy, help create and retain valuable jobs, supports families and strengthen community and culture. Understanding the strengths, limitations and potential pitfalls of local consumption is key to making the most of the trend.
Generations ago, the only option people really had for shopping was to buy local. Our great grandparents ate vegetables grown in their gardens and bought clothing, tools, and other goods handmade in their own town. Today’s globalized market fulfills our every whim by delivering goods that are either unavailable in our own communities or are cheaper to buy elsewhere.
This luxury to get anything anywhere is a testament to human ingenuity, but it also bears environmental and social consequences. In today’s economically turbulent and environmentally unfriendly times, many consumers choose to shop only within their own town or state. Community resilience and environmental integrity are at the heart of the “buy local” movement. It also offers businesses a special opportunity to support other fellow businesses within their own community. Certainly there are many advantages to buying local. However, the concept is not without its potential disadvantages.
Buying Local: The Advantages
Often touted as the best way to be environmentally friendly and support your community, buying local means just that – purchasing items grown or manufactured near your home (in your city or state). By purchasing food and other goods that are produced locally you stimulate the economy in which you live. Jobs are created or retained, the community gains revenue, families and cultures are supported, and things thrive and grow.
Purchasing locally also means that you know a bit more about quality control; you know that certain goods have been produced in a way that meets stringent regional and national standards. When purchasing goods from out of the country it can be difficult to know the manufacturing processes and potentially harmful chemicals and byproducts involved.
Further, sourcing locally reduces the transportation costs associated with your goods. Certainly it takes less gas, and thus puts fewer greenhouse emissions into the air, to drive a bushel of apples from town to town than across the nation or globe. Local items are also more likely to be fresh compared to items that are transported long distances.
Buying locally also presents a special networking opportunity among businesses. Choosing to buy from other businesses within your community can lead to new connections, special discounts, and the chance to collaborate and support one another’s brands.
Connecting with Your Community
For businesses wondering where to start, there are several networking platforms that make buying and selling locally easy. Online marketplaces such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are great places to find new and used goods (extra green points for buying second hand!). With over 9 million members around the world, The Freecycle Network is a source for getting and giving free, secondhand items. At no cost, simply type in your city in the search bar to find Freecycle groups in your area and a list of offered and wanted items.
Nextdoor, a platform that connects you with residents and businesses within your zip code, is an effective way to engage with neighbors and stay up to date on local deals. In addition to a personal account, Nextdoor also provides a business profile option for you to promote your goods and services.
Think Responsibly When Buying Local
It might be surprising to read, but buying local does actually have some possible disadvantages. First it is important to understand that just because something is locally produced does not mean that it is environmentally friendly. If supplies or equipment have to be shipped in to create the product, then that can offset any benefit of creating or growing the product locally.
Energy and efficiency can be concerns as well, leading to more disadvantages to local business. Specifically, some areas of the country have more developed alternative energy sources, such as wind power and solar power. Local farms and manufacturers cannot always take advantage of this green energy, but other producers may be able to, thus making their products more green. Additionally, larger operations with bigger budgets can function more effectively, adding to their greenness over small, local farms.
Buying locally can be a great way to encourage small business and promote economic growth in our own communities. However, buying locally is not always the perfect solution; it is not even always the greenest solution. Think responsibly before you make the decision!
Shopping Green in a Complicated Economic Environment
With ongoing concerns over climate change and how its long-term impact could alter life as we know it, there is no doubt that the global economy will change as well. The recent COVID-19 outbreak is a prime example of how a global crisis can shape market conditions and consumer buying habits (remember panic buying?) The imperative question is: Can buying locally save small businesses during such times of economic flux? To answer this, it is necessary to understand how a crisis shapes the business landscape and what this could mean for you and your stakeholders. Find out how your business can become more resilient in a complicated economic environment here.