The joy of shopping local!

By planetm | January 25, 2022

Shopping from local independent shops isn’t just beneficial for the community on your doorstep, it’s also better for the planet, says Jenny Oldaker

The author and sustainability advocate Anna Lappé once said ‘every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ These words will no doubt resonate with any of us who are striving to do what we can to make the world a better place, but with an eye watering array of retail options open to us, making the right choices can be paralysing.

One way we can embrace planet-friendly shopping is simply by buying goods at our local independent shops. More of us than ever have been doing so since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw two thirds of consumers start buying closer to home, according to a survey by Barclaycard. The global crisis saw a new-found support of – and appreciation for – local shops, a phenomenon that seems to have continued as life goes back to some kind of normal and shoppers continue to enjoy the more personal, sociable experience offered by small independent retailers.

But what makes buying local a more environmentally friendly option? Well for starters, there’s transport. “Most people will use public transport, walk or cycle to their local high street,” says Adam Bastock, founder of Small99, an organisation supporting small businesses in achieving net zero. “This is far better for the planet than having a diesel delivery van driving around a city bringing goods to you.”

Low impact purchasing

Packaging also tends to be more economical and sustainable in local stores than via the big corporate alternatives. Analysis by conservation organisation Oceana estimated that Amazon generated 211,000 tonnes of plastic packaging in 2019, while research by Greenpeace showed that the leading supermarkets introduced more than 900,000 tonnes of single use plastic to the market in 2018. Even if one of your local shops employs bad packaging habits, it is much easier to do something about it than it is with big companies. “Small businesses can change much quicker, so if you do have products with a lot of packaging, it’s much easier to feed that back to them and have it changed,” agrees Adam.

Shorter supply chains and locally made or produced items are also typical features of the goods sold by local high street independents, all of which are positive for the environment. Walking to a farmers’ market to buy locally grown produce or locally made items (carried home in your own reusable bag) will yield a far smaller environmental impact than a car journey to a supermarket to buy heavily packaged goods flown in from far-flung locations.

Beyond the evidence for local shops being a more eco-friendly option, there are other reasons to buy locally too. Firstly, it means that your money is going back into the economy and is beneficial for the community. “Roughly 63p in every £1 spent with a local business goes back into the economy. Compare this to around 40p with large businesses,” explains Adam. “The size, taxes and financial structures of such corporations mean that money flows out of the community and even abroad.”

Investing in your community

Dan Ross, co-owner of independent Bristol bookshop Storysmith agrees: “Shopping locally means you contribute to the ecosystem on your doorstep: you provide jobs, you help those businesses and their employees pay the taxes that make improvements to your area, you make that area a more desirable and enriching place to live. You’ll also build a relationship with your local high street and the people who work there. For example, if your local bookseller gets a feel for your taste based on your purchases, it’s the beginning of a wonderful two way process that, try as they might, algorithms cannot replicate in the same way.”

As Dan’s point suggests, another reason to shop local is purely personal – the experience of buying from local independents helps to foster a sense of community and creates a more pleasant and satisfying experience all round. Customer service tends to be better at local shops, where store owners are more personally invested in their customer base and keen to react to feedback and build relationships with local people. This kind of social connection and community togetherness is more important than ever today, in the wake of long months separated from other people, and in a fast-paced, often anonymous, modern world where human contact is vital for our spiritual wellbeing.

Speedy shopping

It’s easy to have good intentions but life is busy and convenience can sometimes win out over our desire to shop in an eco-friendly way. So what can we do if we want to support local shops but don’t have the time to mooch up the high street for a browse? “Always see if your local business has an online service,” suggests Dan. “They’re often just as competent and user-friendly as larger companies, thanks to the democratisation of technology, and the service is very often that bit more personal as well.” Besides, shopping online through local retailers (rather than via the websites of large national or international businesses) has been found to be a better bet for the environment too:

“This is due to much simpler supply chains with fewer stops,” explains Adam. “Large organisations are complex, and a single item will move around many times before it gets to you. A local store avoids many of these steps. As a result, local deliveries tend to have half the emissions of large retailers.”

When you order from local stores you can usually opt for delivery or collection – sometimes delivery is even made by bicycle or on foot, decreasing carbon emissions yet further. Simply search out your favourite independent shop’s website to get started, or check out one of the increasing number of online directories that are springing up, with the aim of helping people find and use shops in their area – from sites that cover the entire UK, like Small99’s own growing list to more localised websites that focus on companies in a specific city or region.

For the time-poor, Adam also suggests that it’s getting easier to find a wider range of local products in one go: “There are more local marketplaces opening up, such as veg box companies offering bundles of local produce. It’s not always as cheap, but you get much better service and the money improves your neighbourhood.”

Discover more

This article first appeared in issue 20 of Planet Mindful magazine. Want to live more mindfully? Check out more mindfulness techniques here.

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