Shopping Local for Your Environment & Community:
A Guide for Consumers & Small Businesses
Due in part to the rising influences of globalization, consumers and businesses alike are increasingly turning to delivery services to bring them goods from outside of their local area. While this is convenient in many respects (thus its popularity) it is having a variety of effects on communities, as well as the environment at large.
The Benefits of Shopping Local
The benefits of shopping locally are paradoxically far-reaching. While it does benefit the economic prosperity and self-sufficiency of a community, it also can contribute to global efforts to reduce our environmental footprint.
The environmental benefits of shopping locally include:
- Decreased emissions related to travel: The transportation of goods typically involves gas consumption. Buying locally means goods have less distance to travel to the consumer.
- Decreased packaging: Goods typically need to be packaged for long-distance travel.
- Ease of responsible sourcing: It is easier to know whether a good is produced ethically when it comes from your community.
- Keeping land in the hands of locals: When you buy local, you support local farmers and producers in favor of large corporations. These local individuals have more incentive to treat the land well.
- Keeping farms and factories small: It can be harmful to the land if it is bought up as a resource to burn for a large corporation. A larger number of small businesses can help prevent serious, concentrated damage to the ecosystem.
The economic benefits of shopping locally include:
- Keeping money within the community: When you buy local, the money goes to members of your community, rather than entities outside of it, and thus stimulates the local economy.
- Keeping jobs within the community: When money stays in a community, the jobs do too. A push to buy locally can cause an increase in local jobs as businesses thrive.
- Maintaining community self-sufficiency: If your local economy is doing well and producing the majority of its resources, it is not as reliant on outside forces.
- Promoting community diversity: By giving money to members of your community rather than large corporations, you can more evenly distribute capital to all demographics, rather than reinforcing existing power structures. This opportunity and the freedom that it offers may encourage diversity in your community.
- Increasing community collaboration: When you buy local, you have more of an opportunity to be more closely involved with your community.
Discovering Local, Sustainable Businesses
While it is helpful to shop local in general, some businesses do take greater strides to promote sustainability more than others. If you are interested in going the extra mile to support sustainable business practices in your community, you can use the following methods to find eco-friendly businesses:
- Word-of-mouth and Referrals: One of the best ways to find promising businesses in your community is through other people within your community. This is particularly valuable because not all small businesses will put money and effort towards documenting and advertising their sustainable business practices. In such cases, simply searching online for sustainable businesses in your area may not return results for these businesses.
- Local Bulletins: Although businesses that value sustainability will not always advertise their sustainable practices, they often will. Many businesses are incentivized to engage in sustainable practices due to the value that they can offer in the marketing realm. As such, to some degree, you may be able to find these businesses passively by keeping an eye out for bulletins in your local media or online.
- Social Media: You may be able to find businesses that engage in sustainable practices through targeted advertisements or testimonials from friends on social media platforms.
- Local Web Search: As previously mentioned, a simple way to find businesses with sustainable values is by searching online. Due to the development of local search algorithms and subsequent website optimization efforts by businesses, you can simply add a modifier such as “near me” to narrow down your search criteria to local businesses. It is important to note that the outcome of your search results will be highly influenced by many factors.
- Green Business Directories: A green business directory is a catalog of businesses that engage in sustainable business practices. Many such directories can be found online. They can be particularly valuable as a third-party assessment of businesses’ practices.
Utilizing Sustainable Marketing Strategies
If your small business is considering implementing sustainable practice as part of your business model, it can be very valuable to leverage those practices as part of your local marketing strategy. Because consumers are increasingly invested in sustainability and corporate responsibility, such business practices and associated marketing campaigns can be a huge boon to your business. However, it is important that you approach such advertising mindfully. The following tactics reflect some of the core best practices associated with sustainable marketing:
- Communicate Your Strategy: Ensure that everyone in your company is aware of policy changes and strategies related to sustainable business practice and marketing, as well as the value of it.
- Embrace It: To be successful in your efforts, it is important that you are genuinely invested in sustainable business practices. Stay in the loop, look for ways to improve, and be open to constructive criticism.
- Focus on Your Products and Services: If you put a lot of effort into offering sustainable products and services, the subsequent advertising strategy and efforts should come relatively easily.
- Partner With Other Green Businesses: Other green businesses can not only offer you direction for your sustainability efforts and marketing but may also provide resources for sustainable sourcing.
- Use Sustainable Materials: A core component of employing sustainable business practices is to ensure that the materials that you are producing or utilizing are sustainable, to the best of your ability.
- Support Sustainable Causes: You can leverage not only your own sustainable practices but also your support of sustainable causes for your sustainable marketing campaign.
- Avoid Greenwashing: It is imperative that if you are advertising your sustainability efforts, you are engaging genuinely in those efforts. This is not only an ethical obligation, but also a key consideration to avoid negative press.
- Promote Education: Consumers will likely appreciate your efforts more if they understand the value behind them.
- Get Certified: Certification through an entity that assesses sustainable products, services, and practices is a good way to earn consumer trust and begin to build your reputation as a sustainable business.
- Be Transparent: Whenever possible, make it easy for consumers to observe and investigate your sustainable practices, rather than just having to take you at your word. This can be done through efforts such as explanations of material sourcing on your product or guided tours of your facility.
- Go Digital: Many consumers discover and communicate with businesses online, and therefore it can be very helpful to ensure that you have a robust digital presence and offer multiple channels of communication through which customers can contact you about questions or concerns. If possible, it will also be beneficial to optimize for mobile and voice search, to cater to audiences that are looking for a product or service while they are on-the-go.
- Do What Works for You: Very few businesses can afford to fully transition to sustainable practices overnight. Therefore, it will be important to be realistic about what steps you can take, and to scale them up appropriately over time. As your business practices develop, you will have to adjust your workflow management strategies along with them.
Supporting Sustainable Businesses in the Community
If sustainable business practices in your community are something you value, it is important that you support eco-friendly businesses. While frequenting these businesses is, of course, one helpful way to support these businesses, there are several other ways that you can personally help these establishments thrive.
You can donate time and resources to support local businesses in many ways, including:
- Direct donations: Consider searching for existing avenues that allow you to donate, such as crowdfunding websites, local fundraising campaigns, or donation options on the business’s website. If none of these options currently exist for a specific local business, you could also start a fundraiser or try to include a business in an existing fundraising campaign, with the business’s support.
- Larger tips: You can support local businesses in a small way by tipping well. This not only generally benefits the workers, but also can help businesses find effective workers as a larger pool of people compete for the jobs available.
- Volunteer work: Consider offering your services to groups that support local businesses, or directly to a local business of your choice. This can entail anything from helping touch up the paint on an old building to offering your specialized professional skills.
Local Events and Farmers’ Markets
You can support local businesses through farmers’ markets and other events that showcase local businesses. You can leverage these events as a means of supporting local businesses by:
- Attending events: The first and foremost way that you can support local businesses through events like farmers’ markets is by attending them, learning about the businesses represented, and spending money on the products offered.
- Promoting events: Help get the word out about these events, whether that’s through the support of a marketing campaign, or by simply sharing information in your circle.
- Volunteering at events: Large events are often in need of extra help, such as organizers and security personnel.
A valuable way to support local businesses in the modern day is through online engagement. Online engagement can take many forms, including:
- Following on social media: By following a business’s social media profiles, you can keep track of its offerings and efforts. You also may find similar businesses through shared information and targeted advertisements.
- Leaving online reviews: In the modern-day, people often vet businesses by checking local listings. As such, leaving a positive review can go a long way toward securing a business’s reputation. It can also help businesses fine-tune their services through review analysis.
- Documenting check-ins: Many platforms online give you the option to document “check-ins” to establishments, which is one way that you can spread the word about a business online.
- Posting pictures: Posting pictures of the business and its products can further spread the word about an organization and demonstrate its value.
Gift Cards and Recommendations
For a business to thrive, it typically relies on the expansion of local brand visibility and patronage. Therefore, an important way to support local businesses is by encouraging other people to use their products or services as well. You can approach this in many ways, including:
- Gift-Giving: Give the business’s products or gift certificates as gifts. This not only gives the business money, but also increases awareness of it.
- Posting About Your Experience: You can easily tell others about your positive experience with a business by posting about it online.
- Word-of-Mouth: Simply tell others in your circle about your positive experiences with local businesses.
Additional Resources on Local and Sustainable Businesses
To successfully engage in sustainability in our day-to-day lives, it is important that we view it as an ongoing learning process. Therefore, both businesses and consumers alike should ideally seek out learning materials and resources that can help them be more mindful about how their actions impact the environment, and most effectively work toward reducing their footprint.
Resources that consumers can use to engage with businesses in a way that promotes sustainability include:
- EPA: This is an FAQ about the sustainable marketplace and green products.
- Going Zero Waste: This article provides advice for how to avoid falling victim to greenwashing as a consumer.
- How Stuff Works: This article provides advice on how to choose sustainable products and services.
- Ethical.net: This article explores various sustainability certifications and provides advice on how to know which ones you should trust.
- Money Under 30: This article offers advice for how to buy locally in a budget-friendly way.
- Green America: This article explains what voting with your dollar is, and how to do it effectively for various products and services.
For Entrepreneurs and Business Owners
Resources that entrepreneurs and business owners can use to more effectively pursue sustainable business practices include:
- FTC: This resource published by the Federal Trade Commission offers advice on how to navigate sustainable supply chains, certification, and marketing, to avoid greenwashing.
- Sustainability Consortium: This article provides advice for how to transparently utilize sustainable supply chains.
- Environmental Leader: This article provides advice on how to avoid greenwashing.
- Maker’s Row: This article provides advice for finding sustainable manufacturers and suppliers.
- SBA: This resource from the Small Business Administration offers information about securing a grant or loan to improve sustainable practice in your business.
- Small Business Trends: This resource lists reputable sustainability certifications that can help you win customers’ trust.