Proven Ways Local Businesses Boost the Environment & Your Health

Part 1 of the Buy Local Series

By Kallin Lang

When you shop at local businesses you strengthen your community by supporting companies that stimulate the local economy, align themselves with environmentally friendly practices, and commit themselves to customer health and satisfaction. In this article, we will dive deeper into the environmental and health benefits of supporting local businesses. 

What Counts as a Local Business?

Is just your neighborhood local? Can you expand that to your city, province, country, or continent? Unfortunately, the precise definition of buying local is still being debated by scholars. Typically, local is defined as buying from firms within 100 miles of your house that are owned and operated by a member of the community (Kurland & McCaffrey 2014). In general, the closer to your house the company is located the better it will be for the community, environment, and customers. Often the topic of buying from local businesses is paired with the phrase “think globally, act locally,” which inspires people to think about the health of the entire globe when deciding on the best actions to take at the local level.

Why Buy Products from Local Businesses?

Sometimes it can be difficult to buy from local businesses if instead, you can hop on Amazon, finish your entire shopping list, and get it all delivered to your door with next-day shipping. Globalized markets are often convenient, efficient, and cheap. However, buying from local businesses can be the strongest way to grow the economy, support your community, and help protect the environment and your health.


Local Businesses are Environmentally Friendly

Local businesses are interwoven with their local environment, giving them more incentive to have environmentally friendly practices. Also, because the businesses operate closer to the point of sale excess waste in the form of gas, spoiled food, and product packaging are also reduced. But, just because a business is local does not ensure that it is automatically environmentally friendly. We encourage you to ask your local businesses what they do to help support the environment. 

Fewer Miles Traveled

Since local businesses typically make local purchases the amount of miles traveled to produce their goods is reduced. Iowa State University in 2001 found that eating three conventionally prepared meals required 12,558 food miles. Yet, when those same ingredients were bought from local businesses, identical meals required only 1,198 miles of transportation. This is a remarkable 84% reduction in the number of the food miles. Likewise, local businesses usually operate from city centers since they don’t need the wide expanses that large box stores need (O’Kelly 2009). This means that consumers on average travel less miles to buy the products as well. All this reduction in transportation means less gas and less traffic; consequently leading to better air quality and less greenhouse gases. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions found that carbon dioxide, released in fossil fuel combustion, is the principal greenhouse gas contributing to climate change (2003). Therefore, sourcing your products from local businesses can help curb climate change and protect the future of the planet. 

Less Waste

With fewer miles traveled, produce arrives quicker and fresher leading to less spoiled food going to waste.  Since products from local businesses travel shorter distances, these goods also require less packaging to protect them on their journeys. This means less plastic, less non-biodegradable materials, and a smaller strain on landfills overall. On top of this, when it comes to local food, refrigerated trucks and warehouses can largely be avoided further cutting down the ecological footprint of your produce. Thus, buying from local businesses can help reduce food waste, packaging in landfills, and carbon emissions.

Wildlife Protection

The typical supercenter uses between 180,000 to 250,000 square feet not including the large parking lots that surround the stores themselves (Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 2008). In fact, all the Walmarts in the US combine to the area of twice the size of Manhattan (Zitzman, 2019). These large concrete slabs of space destroy local habitat and lead to lower water tables and increased, often polluted, water run-off (Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 2007). Opportunities to find this much available space in city centers are sparse, which means that these superstores turn towards city edges for suitable construction zones. This is what is known as urban sprawl. Contrastingly, local businesses overwhelmingly choose existing buildings to set up shop and use less land in general to run their stores. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that most main street properties used less than 1,000 square feet (2008). Furthermore, keeping local farmers in business offers important wildlife habitats and animal travel corridors. If these farmers were to close, this land might instead be converted into industrial parks, commercial centers, or other environmentally poor development choices. Supporting local businesses means less sprawl, less traffic, less pollution, and less habitat loss.

Local Businesses Promote Good Health

Besides the peace of mind of knowing where your food comes from, buying from local businesses can help support your health too. Food that comes from local businesses is likely fresher than those imported from other countries. Additionally, these products are more likely to be grown according to the current season. Together these characteristics yield produce with higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than their large superstore counterparts (Klavinski, 2013). Scientists at Montclair State University found that in-season broccoli had twice the vitamin C when compared to its out of season counterpart (2008). Local farmers may also limit the use of hormones, pesticides, fertilizers, and preservatives, which is beneficial for not only your health but also helps protect the local environment. Yet due to financial, education, or societal restraints, these local businesses may be unable to label their food USDA certified organic. One farmer interviewed for a short documentary aired by PBS in 2014 said that we should look to replace USDA organic certification with what he calls “face certification.” Face certification, or otherwise personally knowing the local businesses who grow your food, is the best way to understand and trust how your food was grown. Knowing this, even though local fruits and vegetables may arrive less sanitized than their supermarket counterparts there might not be a need to wash them as thoroughly. In fact, while you may think more dirt is a bad thing, dirt is a great way to support a healthy gut. Local produce is grown in nutrient-dense probiotic-rich soil that can help you to stay healthy year-round (Blum et al. 2018). Between the higher nutritional content, gut enriching bacteria, and protection of knowing how your food was grown, by buying from local businesses you can be strengthening your health significantly.  

Besides the vast benefits local businesses can have on your health and environment that we have talked about today, they are also great for the economy and consumer satisfaction too. Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn more about the benefits of supporting local businesses.

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