Fixing The Economy: Could Localism Provide A Boost?
Every Thursday, thanks to a content partnership with brother-sister duo Journey of Action, we’ll be exploring Gen Y changemakers–and how they fit in with the rest of the world.
The global economy seems to be, in few words, falling apart. And while we can’t possibly claim a definitive solution, we do know that it’s important to look at other models–like the city of Bellingham, Washington. Its residents have taken localism to new heights, creating an economy that consists almost entirely of local businesses that emphasize environmental sustainability.
In the video above, they explain how a localized economy is not only empowering, but also a way to generate economic strength during a nationwide recession.
Though our economy, generally, favors mass production, localism (which covers a range of political philosophies and not just where you get your food) is on the rise, as part of broader efforts to make cities more sustainable. Organizations like the C40, a global group of large cities committed to climate change, and the National Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, assert that urban sustainability means implementing green infrastructure and energy programs, as well as strengthening existing recycling initiatives. Localism is a significant part of this process because everyday citizens and business owners can participate–right now, today, with their own consumer decisions.
Many locavores also believe that finding ways to keep money in the community could provide resistance to the sagging global economic markets. “When you buy local, 50 percent of the money stays local,” explains Nick Hartrich, the Green Building Program Manager at Bellingham’s Sustainable Connections, a nonprofit localizing their town (and the org featured in the video above). In contrast, he adds, buying something from a corporation sends money to strangers in offices in other cities.
Plus, buying local reduces transportation costs. The carbon footprint of eating an apple shipped from Mexico to New York City, for example, is invisible but massive.
Both Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn, New York have particularly strong “locavore” cultures, which can be seen in celebrated restaurants that source from area farms. Most residents have realized that not only is it more environmentally friendly to consume local goods (often organic, with low transportation costs), but it’s also socially rewarding to know the people and places that go into your daily meals and habits.
And another, of course, is Bellingham. Some snapshots from the video: one restaurateur sources everything that she sells from within 22 miles of her farm. A baker trades her cookies for goods from farmers. Basil and mint come so fresh off the field to the local market that the herbs are still warm from the sun.
Sustainable Connections supports local Bellingham businesses by fostering relationships that increase production capacity, and by improving sustainability practices. Michelle Grandy, the Communications and Think Local First Program Manager, explained to Dowser, “We’re a membership organization, so our biggest goal is to help our members be more sustainable in their everyday practices.”
“When a business takes the actions we recommend to them, we then promote the business to the community not only as a local business, but also as a place that’s taking these extra steps to be more sustainable,” Grandy said. This in turn serves as a marketing tactic, and helps the business get new customers. Currently, Sustainable Connections has over 600 members in and around Bellingham.
One of their most successful programs has been the Zero Waste Campaign. “We send a professional from our local waste hauler to a business to do a waste audit,” said Grandy. “They identify things that can be recycled that the business doesn’t know about – sometimes it’s not common knowledge that certain plastics, for example, can be recycled.”
“I believe that supporting local is so important right now,” said Grandy. “We know that when you spend your money locally, more of it stays in the community and re-circulates – in the long run that’s what truly creates jobs. It’s essential that people consider local first when it makes sense for them. And besides the money part, it resonates with people because you’re supporting people you know.”