Going green, going local

A story called Eco-nomical: Buying Local on Weekend Edition Sunday suggests buying local is the ecological win. The story mentions the benefits that buying from a local store has a greater impact on the local economy than does buying from a big-box national chain. Unfortunately it has some suggestions that just don't add up.

The story suggests that buying from local shops instead of big boxes will mean driving less. Certainly reducing driving is a good thing but does it work this way? With big box stores concentrated in one area it's likely to be that people drive less when they visit the big box stores. A certain number of local stores will be scattered around the big boxes but reaching the number of them necessary to pick up things that one can get in a department store takes quite a bit more driving. Internet shopping is mentioned as a last resort in the story.

Consider, however, just how many local stores one would have to visit to get the products carried in the Amazon Green of the online retailer. There would be a lot of driving.

Looking at the driving argument a little closer it falls apart completely. One of the great economies and things that can be done to benefit the environment is to consolidate trips. How better to consolidate trips than to have a package delivered to the house by the same big brown truck that is out on the route anyway? In plenty of neighborhoods the very same truck will be delivering the product to the local store.

But there is another benefit that I cannot get locally.

Blue bicycleUsing its considerable buying power Amazon has launched Frustration Free Packaging. The name, however, belies the other benefits. Working with manufacturers Amazon has been able to get the "brown cardboard" version of packaging and made it available to consumers. No more frustrating plastic bubbles to figure out how to open, just simple, highly-recyclable cardboard.

So am I against buying local? Absolutely not there are many benefits to buying local. Especially when there are locally produced items available from local resellers. Even better are those that are within biking and walking distance so one can completely eliminate the automobile trips to pick them up. Further there are lots of great local craftspersons who have beautiful goods that will bring smiles to people.

However being forthright and logical about making arguments is key. Let's make sure that when we're doing things in the name of the environment we really are doing things that benefit the environment.


1 Comment

Hey Josh -- I hear the

Hey Josh -- I hear the concerns you're bringing up -- and appreciate the fact that you have open comments so I can address them :) It's v. tough to get across the larger issues I was referring to when I talked about driving less in a 5 min segment, but what I was pointing to was the potential of encouraging / creating a walkable community via local shopping.

As you point out v. well in your post, in many communities, Wal-Mart's sort of become like the default go-to place for any shopping -- and has become that one-stop shop by killing local businesses we used to be able to walk to. Many smaller towns used to have walkable downtown centers that residents could walk around and get all their shopping done. Today, Wal-Mart's killed most of these downtowns, and people instead drive to Wal-Mart's huge parking lots to do their shopping.

No, I don't at all advocate driving to farflung individual shops and buying one gift in each (but I would like to point out that Wal-Mart is one of the culprits that's led to this unfortunate situation, where we no longer have downtowns and individual shops struggle to survive in farflung areas). As you rightly point out, driving miles and miles for one gift is not at all good for the environment.

What I was trying to get across (or would've been able to get across if the segment were longer) is that by opting to shop local to the extent that we are able, we CAN slowly bring back those walkable downtowns -- and hopefully, entire walkable neighborhoods. That would, indeed, let us drive less while also letting us enjoy the unique character of our individual neighborhoods -- and the unique talents of the people in them.

Thanks again for your thoughtful post, and for letting me elaborate here :)