Buy From Those Down the Road, It Could Save the Globe - William Edwards, Seth Farmer, Zihan Guo, Alex Meyer (Group 7)
Many sustainability organizations around the world emphasize the importance of buying locally. Why is that? What makes buying locally more or less environmentally friendly, and how does it make the world more sustainable? These are some of the questions we plan to answer. We will address some of the environmental impacts of global trade and how it can be mitigated by buying local. We’ve asked for the opinions of local business owners in Central Indiana, so you will read about their perspective on buying local. We will also address some of the economic challenges, and how it might not be challenging in the long run. After researching this topic, our team has concluded that it is beneficial to the environment and the local economy to buy local, and that the challenges of buying local can be overcome.
One of the first questions to address is why the international market and global trade have such a negative impact on the environment. In the current market, it is much cheaper to produce foodstuffs and products overseas and ship them to consumers. Often, packaging and processing facilities are far away from where the products are made. This leads to a huge consumption of fuel during shipping. At the bottom of the text, we included an infographic which outlines many facts we reference. The beginning includes several statistics about transportation emissions. Shipping produces 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. 65 percent of all shipping methods are by air and sea, meaning that most shipping is done internationally. We could reduce these emissions significantly by buying domestically produced goods.
Looking specifically at global food production, much of their impact is due to emissions and over farming. While local food production may cause soil damage, the scales are more reconcilable than that of global industries. Yet, due to the ever-upward growth and consumption rates, the global food market will continue to harm the environment. Also, looking at the ‘scale effect’ of large producers, this destruction will continue even as equipment and facilities become more efficient at producing (Clapp & Dauvergne, 2001).
Buying local is more environment-friendly, but is it sustainable in the long term? We believe that local good consumption is a sustainable practice. In fact, many have begun to call local goods sustainable goods. Local suppliers must learn production methods that would be more efficient/environmentally friendly than the global suppliers. Yet, they do not use it in the same capacity as international producers. Close networks of local farmers, stores and events, ensures the process is sustainable. Looking at the waste produced by large food producers we know that many of its byproducts are not recyclable or impossible to recycle. This point is supported in the infographic. On the contrary, local producers use Farmers markets to gain access to consumers while reducing the footprint from packaging (Grace Communications Foundation).
We asked Amy Farmer, a local producer with a farm in Cicero, Indiana for her opinion on buying local. She stated a number of advantages of buying local. For example, a lack of freight cost. Fossil fuel use in transportation is limited because most customers of a roadside stand are within 15 minutes. The customers will have a personal relationship with who they are buying from. Because customers are able to buy directly from the producer, there are no ‘middle men’. Amy says this creates “less chance for contamination, less price inflation, and less chance that someone will mess something else up.” When asked what the world would look like if everyone bought locally, she stated the food would be more secure since it would no longer be dependent on international relations and politics. She said that most people would have gardens or livestock in their own yard, and the number of large scale farms would be minimal. However, Amy also recognizes that a lot has to happen before society reaches this point, and that buying 85% local is a more realistic goal. Amy Farmer also recognizes that buying local is not subsidized by the government and is more expensive for the consumers. However, in her personal experience, her and her customers end up eating less when they eat local fresh grown produce that doesn’t need preserved. She also states the those who buy and eat local might save on health costs down the road. She said, “Customers feel better when they eat local, they tend to notice subjective improvements in their health.”
While the idea of buying local is filled with promise, it’s easier said than done. Whether we like it or not, the economy and the environment are tied in ways we can’t undo. There are definitely economic challenges that come with buying local. As determined by environmentalists, poverty is responsible for a lot of environmental harm (Shah, 2005). It is much more affordable to buy processed, international products. Those with low income do not necessarily have the means to buy the more expensive locally grown, organic food products, or other locally made goods. This makes it seem that not everyone can buy local. However, economists say that this might not be a problem in the long run.
Buying local actually boosts local economies significantly. Author and NEF researcher David Boyle says in an interview with TIME, “Money is like blood. It needs to keep moving around to keep the economy going” (Schwarts, 2009). If we look at the human body, blood has to circulate continuously for the body to function. Similarly, an economy needs a flow of money to keep it from collapsing. When members of a community give money to local businesses by purchasing their goods and services, those local businesses can give back by employing more community members and investing in the community. According to a study by the American Economic Review in 2008 and 2009, local businesses return 52 percent of their revenue to the local community, whereas national chain retailers only return 14 percent (Grow Riverside). When more people buy local, giving small businesses a chance to grow and expand, it reduces the challenge of buying local for those who find it financially impossible.
While there is certainly an initial barrier to buying local, it just needs a push. After this push, local economies should experience a snowballing of growth. If this happened everywhere, especially in the U.S. and other developed countries, we’d actually see sustainable growth. Buying local is not only greener itself, but it also creates economic growth that could reduce poverty. Poverty reduction can lead to more people who have the means to live a sustainable life and who participate less in consumerism.
To get more information on what challenges we need to overcome, a representative from “Better World”, a popular local Asian market among international students at Purdue was interviewed. Compared to supermarkets like Walmart, Better World meets the needs of Asian students more by offering a larger variety of vegetables and meats.
We interviewed Ruizhi Guo, who’s in charge of Better World’s vegetable distribution. She stated they offer more than 60 kinds of vegetables, 80 percent of which is from California and 20 percent is from Chicago. Expecting these products to be more “local”, this was surprising. “Are there no local farms, maybe in Indiana, that provides the same product?”, she was asked. She said she asked the same question after first getting here, and what she found out was that most big farms here only provide a certain number of products. This makes sense because different vegetables require different growing environments, and it’s easier and more profitable for a traditional farm to focus on a few popular products.
The second issue Guo addressed was that even if there was some small-scale farming going on locally, like Chinese broccoli in someone’s backyard, the demands would be way more than the supply. In other words, there won’t be enough products to go around if it is not provided by big farms. Take Better World as an example. They take in 120 boxes of around 30 pounds of vegetables every week, which sometimes is not even enough. To satisfy such demands large-scale farming is definitely required.
It is true that the transition from global trade to buying local will face many challenges, but with new technology emerging every day, our team believes this is a future we can reach. Buying local is a practice that should be encouraged due to its positive impact on the local community and the environment. While we are far from a world where it is possible for everyone to buy local due to product availability and cost, more people buying local now, will make it easier for those in the future. It is the recommendation of this team, that those who are able should grow and/or buy their products locally.