Buying Green Means Buying Local

The “green ripple” effect of buying local, like the local multiplier effect, can yield multiple rounds of benefit.

Local Sourcing

Local independent businesses — especially restaurants and retailers — typically carry a greater portion of locally-produced goods and use more local inputs, meaning less fuel consumption is required to keep the business running and shelves stocked. Also, those locally-produced items likely will come from smaller-scale farms, factories, artists, and producers than the huge suppliers for large chains. Finally, millions of independent grocers, restaurants, nurseries and other businesses making individual sourcing choices helps protect biodiversity.

Location and Transportation

Local businesses tend to serve a local customer base, rather than depending on drawing people from a wide area. They usually locate in downtowns and neighborhood — serving business districts where more people enjoy choices to walk, bike, or take mass transit rather than being compelled to drive. This means less air and noise pollution for residents, as well as the opportunity to lead a healthier, more enjoyable lifestyle.

Local Decision-Making Authority

While publicly-traded corporations are designed to be profit-maximizing machines, local business owners typically take a broader view of their role. Local owners often choose more environmentally-sound practices as a personal choice, even when they are not the most profitable path. For publicly-traded corporations, environmental costs are usually not part of business equations unless public laws force such costs to be internalized (a rare occurrence).

Efficient Land Use

Massive “big box” stores and the warehouses of online mega-retailers may be efficient for minimizing corporate costs, but they consume inordinate amounts of land for both buildings and parking lots (often 15 acres or more for “superstores”). The environmental harm caused by such vast expanses of asphalt and increased driving to reach them is large, including absorbing heat, increasing water run-off (contaminated by oils), lowering water tables, and reduction of habitat. Of course, the cost of infrastructure that enables large volumes of cars to reach those parking lots is paid for by all residents and businesses, increasing taxes and many forms of pollution. In contrast, most local merchants use land far more productively and occupy existing structures.

Product Durability

For most chains and online giants, sourcing products at the lowest possible price is a top priority. Their products tend to be mass-produced and sell themselves on cheapness, convenience, selection and features. Craftsmanship and durability rarely are selling points or even considerations at these retailers. Rather than compete head-on with discounters, independent retailers are more likely to stock products that emphasize quality and reliability as well as price, and many even service what they sell.

The increasing dominance of mega-retailers has continually driven down the product lifespan of hard goods and even clothing. The environmental impacts are enormous, as TVs, lawnmowers, appliances and many other products formerly built to last many years or decades of normal use (and were worth fixing when problems arose), now end up in landfills after short lifespans. This cycle consumes land, releases more toxins into our environment and creates far more waste and pollution from manufacturing low-quality goods rather than durable products.

As we’ve shifted from producing and maintaining durable products to disposing ever-cheaper goods, repair shops have vanished from many communities. Since few consumers know product lifespans details about materials used, or even whether the manufacturer actively prevent repairs, knowledgeable salespeople are needed to explain that the better value often is a product with a higher price tag, but a longer lifecycle (and lesser environmental impact). While online reviews have some value, they’re typically written within weeks of purchase, so offer no insight on product durability and post-warrantee fixability.