Understanding the Environmental Impact of Local Sourcing

In times of COVID-19, sustainable shopping can be especially difficult because of many of the closures, restrictions, and health concerns that are involved with keeping everyone as healthy as possible. As you contemplate your purchases this year, purchasing locally from small businesses can be more valuable than ever. 

The idea of local sourcing is one that has been around for a while. If we buy locally produced goods regularly, it can support small businesses and increase the resilience of the economy of local communities. It can also play a much larger role in improving environmental conditions globally, which is more critical than ever. 

Local shopping in the name of sustainability has many obvious perks. However, there are also plenty of things to watch out for. Not every locally made product is considered sustainable. Taking the time to understand how to tell the difference is important if the environmental benefits are really meant to be taken into account. 

Where Every Dollar Counts

In our capitalistic society, every dollar (or Euro) spent counts as a vote for a product and even a lifestyle. Choosing to spend your money locally will ultimately help keep local mom-and-pop shops in business. Your dollar helps them compete with larger corporations that have more reach and can sell products for less. Spending your money at big box stores gives them more power and sends the signal that these are the types of products you want. 

Likewise, choosing to spend your money on local, sustainable products sends a message to industry that if they want to sell products, they need to meet certain environmental guidelines. Consumer purchasing power has already made a difference in some corners of industry. For instance, the beauty industry is responding to environmentally minded demands by using recycled packaging, eliminating toxic ingredients, and improving supply chain efficiencies. 

Though local products may cost a bit more, chances are they are more unique, simpler, or —  when it comes to food — fresher. Choosing these types of products fits with a less is more lifestyle. Ultimately for consumers this means more meaningful gifts with less junk, more healthy food with less chemicals, and a more sustainable planet with less human waste. 

Local and Sustainable

From a sustainability standpoint, there is a lot to be gained by shopping locally. For instance, locally produced foods are far less likely to have industrial chemicals and preservatives that help prevent foods from rotting quickly. These toxins have questionable health impacts and certainly aren’t great for the local environments, so kicking them to the curb is a sustainable goal. 

Perhaps the biggest difference in shopping locally versus at big box stores or online is the shipping and transportation impacts. Foods and goods that are grown/created and sold locally travel a much shorter distance to reach you, the consumer. This means that the number of carbon miles is far lower — which is a huge factor in both global carbon emissions and overall air pollution. 

When we think of shopping locally, most of us think of the local farmer’s market and purchasing fresh produce that comes straight from local farms. This makes sense, as farmer’s markets are one of the biggest drivers of local shopping in most rural areas. But, as many people already know, the food is better because of its freshness and you never have to question what the food you’re eating has really been through

What to Look For

Of course, just because something is made locally doesn’t always mean it is sustainable. For instance, some components of locally made clothing or jewelry may have been shipped from all over the globe. If you are shopping with goals of sustainability in mind, it is important to note that materials that couldn’t have been manufactured locally don’t fit the bill. 

It isn’t always easy to track down this information though, which can make trying to find truly local, sustainable products hard and, honestly, somewhat draining as well. However, there are things you can ask about, such as:

  • Where materials for products came from
  • If the tools used to create products are locally made
  • If there are certain chemicals that are used in the product creation
  • How far products have traveled to be in the store

There are some very real benefits both economically and environmentally to shopping locally as much as possible. When doing so, you support communities and lessen the carbon footprint of the products while also providing unique, fresh items that may not be found anywhere else. It can be difficult to ensure that all locally made products available are actually sustainable, but doing your research and asking a lot of questions can help make that determination.

Indiana Lee
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