Is buying local really more sustainable? When did it became popular? What could be some challenges. This post attempts to answer these questions, and provide a firsthand example of a success story via interview. We ultimately think buying local is a good option for sustainability, however there are some possible drawbacks.
Is Buying Local More Sustainable?
The statistics tell a story. A study done in Chicago called the “Andersonville Study of Retail Economics”, concluded that local business generate 70 percent more local economic activity than big chain retailers. If you spent locally $100 in Andersonville, then $68 of that stayed in the local economy. On the other hand, if you spend $100 at a big chain, only $43 of that would stay in the economy. That means less money going to small business, employees, and infrastructure. Not only is this important for creating strong economies, it also has important impact for global sustainability policy. We have seen that GDP has been used as a crude index of economic strength. Perhaps if we were to strengthen local economies, governments would stress national economic development less and get on with more sustainable policies.
In terms of direct environmental impact, the numbers don’t lie. An entire 25% of CO2 production in most countries can be attributed to international shipping and transport. In the United States alone, 50% of pollution is due to industrial pollution. In general, industrial pollution is a huge culprit in environmental degradation. Here are the facts: US factories produce 3 million tons of toxic chemicals, dispose of 275 million tons of hazardous waste, and destroy 15 million acres of land, all in one year. Not to mention, local businesses are also more likely to reuse materials than big chains, so supporting the growth of local business it turn supports sustainability.
Growing Trend of Buying Local
In recent years, buying local has been proven helpful to the recent epidemic of climate change and the emissions of gases that come along with mass production, and the exchange of goods around the world. Hand in hand with this discovery; “going green” has become somewhat of a trend among the growing, developed countries, especially with the younger generations. In the article, Characterizing the Face and Value of the “Buy Local” Movement by Kynda Curtis, it has been found that the “number of farmers markets around the country has increased by 364% from 1994 to 2013”. Since this has grown, the number of people that are buying local has skyrocketed. During a survey put on by Kynda Curtis, she found out that the two top reasons people have started to buy locally instead of going to shop at their mass production grocery store are: “food safety such as diet/health and environmental impact. In was stated in Fortune that people are even willing to pay up to 25% more for locally produced foods in order to help the environment.
Because of this recent trend, many big box retainers and grocery chains are beginning to carry locally grown items. According to Fortune magazine, the local food industry has generated $11.7 billion in sales in 2014. This is making it easier for people around the world to buy locally because they are able to get these items in stores they are used to instead of researching other ways of access. If this market continues to grow, easy access to these produces for consumers will skyrocket in turn reducing emissions from transportation and mass production.
Potential Restrictions on Buying Local
Despite the advantages of buying local, there are certain limitations on local produces so people do not have to purchase everything locally. There are many people in third world countries who grow commercial crops for living. Once people start to buy local products, they will be left jobless and forced into other occupations with more environmental damage such as factory workers or loggers. For example, if a large portion of Brazilian farmers are forced into industrial factories, it will not take long for them to pollute and destroy the amazon rainforest. The destruction of Amazon rainforest will be devastating for global ecosystem because it absorbs 2.2 billion tons of CO2 each year.
Moreover, a study conducted by Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews from Carnegie Mellon university shows that only 11% of the Greenhouse Gas(GHG) emission is produced from the transportation stage and only 4% is produced from producer to retail contributor. In fact, 83% of the GHG emission is produced from the production stage so it becomes very critical for people to choose certain kinds of local products to purchase if they want to reduce greenhouse gas emission. Once buying local, people should focus on products with significant environmental advantages within the area. For example, Swedish tomato only emit 0.8 kilo of CO2 per kilo(transportation included) if farmed in Spain. However; if the same species is grown in Denmark, the CO2 emission will be almost 7 times higher (5.4 kg CO2/kg tomato). People in Northern Europe will end up emitting more CO2 if they purchase local Swedish tomato rather than import them from Spain. Unlike tomato and meat products, the transportation emission takes a higher percentage in certain products like potato and rice. In general, our goal is to reduce the net emission of both production and transportation. Once people are buying local, they should focus on the products with high transportation emission percentage such as rice and potato. While for products like meat or tomato, people should buy them from regions where production emission is relatively low.
A Firsthand Interview About Buying Local and Sustainability
How better to address the topic of “Buying Local” than, well, locally? To really get to the heart of what buying local means in terms of sustainability and community one member of our team went to a local grocer in Lafayette. The store has a mission to meet the nutritional and economical needs of its members all while selling sustainable goods. Our group member was able to interview one of their volunteers. Here is the recount of the interview:
The volunteer began by explaining that they were a non-profit, and how that creates an economic and social support system for people in the area. She elaborated that the place is more than a grocer, it is a community gathering place with workshops and activities. I proceeded to ask her opinion on why sustainability efforts emphasize buying local. She responded by reminding me that a lot of food production is still through families and small business, and that by supporting these local business’, one is supporting their local economy. Ideally, a government would want to boost these local areas. A government would want its citizens to have something to fall back on if infrastructure were to fail.
I asked the interviewee why she would want people to buy locally. Her response was that it minimizes transportation cost.
She said that people are starting to care more about where food comes from, they’re not happy knowing that their eggs come from factory hens anymore. However, people don’t have the space, time or energy to grow their own food in cities. They can’t grow it themselves, but they still want to know where it comes from, so they buy locally.
I proceeded to ask her a more ambitious question, “Do you think everybody in the world could buy local?”. She said most people already do. It is only a small percentage of the world that has such expansive consumption culture as the United States. A majority of the world’s population is rural. She said, realistically instead of buying completely local, we could just take a step back from supermarket culture. Start your shopping locally at a farmer’s market, and go to a big chain grocer to get specialty items.
It was about this time in the interview where the store’s first customer of the day strolled in. I got to see firsthand the difference between how this place and the average chain grocery store operates. She greeted the customer in a very friendly manner, asking him what he needed. He was looking for eggs, she explained that they were out, but she knew when they were going to get more, and who from, she could even tell you the name of the farmer who the eggs came from. The environment here was different from a big chain grocer.
The volunteer has developed a strong sense of community at this small grocer. She said that she is a relatively newer member of the grocer compared to some of the other members, but they are always willing to talk and answer her questions. For example, she learned how to cook kale! She left me with a quote, “People want to live healthily if they’re given the opportunity and the support”. She made a pretty convincing point for why places like this are important. Sustainable, local food leads to a healthier, friendlier community, and this small grocer is making that dream come true right here in Lafayette.
Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States CHRISTOPHER L. WEBER AND H. SCOTT MATTHEWS
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Climate change and dietary choices — how can emissions of greenhouse gases from food consumption be reduced?