Buying Local

May 25, 2011

Earlier this year I presented a talk at the local public library on the benefits of buying local.  I know these benefits are three-fold: environmental, social, and financial, but I needed to find examples.  So I started perusing films, books, and articles to find real-life illustrations on which to base my talk.

I decided on using an example from the film The Economics of Happiness, by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick, and John Page (note: the tagline for the movie is “Going local is a powerful strategy to help repair our fractured world – our ecosystems, our societies and our selves. Far from the old institutions of power, people are starting to forge a very different future.”)

This documentary offers a comparative example of the economic benefits of buying from a local bookstore versus a chain bookstore: when you buy from a local store, 45% of that money stays in the local economy. Conversely, when you buy from a chain store, only 13% stays in the local economy.  Thus, over time, this capital flight affects the development and wealth of a local economy by more than three-fold.

On the environmental side, buying locally has fewer impacts than buying from chains that source, distribute, and sell goods from around the world. There is a great deal of inherent waste built into the system of globalization: waste in terms of lost/unusable goods, non-recycled plastic and cardboard packaging, gas and oil burned, and carbon emissions. These wastes are significantly reduced in a system in which goods are produced, distributed, and sold locally or regionally.

There are also positive social effects to buying locally. Most often cited is the “sense of community” that we feel by supporting our neighbors and their locally run businesses, but I also believe that we gain individual, personal happiness buying from a locally owned business.

I was reminded of this today as I popped in to Bookman Bookwoman, a used (and also some new) bookstore in Hillsboro Village. As I searched the aisles looking for a specific title I needed, I was reminded of the many times I wandered the aisles of the local bookstore in my hometown of Clemson, SC, looking for a good book and stumbling on gems like “One Foot in Eden” by Ron Rash (a local South Carolinian).  I remembered the time I found a worn-out copy of “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis to take on a long solo-backpacking trip.  I recalled the time in college when I found a well-loved copy of “On The Road,” by Jack Kerouac in a local bookstore in Charlottesville, VA, and the inspiration I found to, well, hit the road and see the world.

The local bookstore is just one example of a place where I have found personal happiness.  What are yours?  Are they worth supporting the next time you need or want to make a purchase?




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