28 Day Challenge #27: I pledge to support local businesses

It’s difficult to be completely aware of the impact that a product or service has on the environment. Even if you make excellent decisions to avoid plastic packaging, not be lulled by deceptive greenwashing and try to use products that are free of harmful additives, it’s difficult to be sure that what you’re paying for doesn’t have a destructive supply chain, or is truly as ethical as the branding would suggest. When you support local businesses, it becomes easy to have a bit more certainty.

Supporting local brands and businesses means bringing goodness back into your own community. When you buy local, you can use your pocket power to have a say in who you want to support. This, in turn, affects our oceans and environment! And now, during the uncertainty of the global pandemic, this is a great way to help our neighbours too.

What can I do?

Wherever viable, support local businesses and brands (without forgetting the other lessons we’ve learned during the 28 Day Challenge)! Local businesses are often small businesses in our communities, such as restaurants, farms, clothing manufacturers, stationers and markets. “Small businesses” certainly are the characteristic local businesses that we think about as having a direct connection to our communities. At a level above that we have South African brands that are also accountable to our community – just at a higher level.

Make your pledge to support local businesses 

Local businesses are more directly linked to their communities for support and are thus generally more easily kept accountable. Credit: Mutangeni [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Why does it matter?

Your decision to support local business has a huge number of environmental and ethical benefits. This is mostly because local businesses need to be more accountable to the communities they serve. When you buy local, you, as a consumer, are not as disconnected from the production chain as you would be from a distant, international super-brand. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits:

  • Locally-made products need less transport – so you’re helping alleviate the climate crisis!
  • Local farms tend to grow crops that are better suited for the local climate, particularly in terms of water consumption.
  • The workers, owners and investors in local businesses tend to be members of the community. They are thus more likely to be aware of the social and environmental issues that their business plays a part in.
  • Local production chains are governed by local laws, which may be better than those at some anonymous foreign plant. This also gives you as a consumer a more direct say in environmental protections. This is because you are part of the democratic processes that determine these laws.
  • Local businesses are less likely to lie/greenwash in their marketing. It is more difficult for them to hide harmful and unethical practices from their communities.
  • You are supporting the local economy and local livelihoods! Not only does your money go directly to the local business, but their own services and supplies are likely to be sourced from other local businesses.
  • Local businesses generate jobs locally.
  • It gives South Africa a vital chance to be self-sustainable, ensuring local livelihoods and preserving local skills

 

When the products we use are produced far away, we become so disconnected from the supply chain that it is easy for brands to hide the environmental cost. It’s up to us to inform ourselves. Credit: JungleNews [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Myth-busting: “Big business is always bad”

Tt’s easy to lambaste “big business” and assume that all small ones are more ethical and environmentally savvy. There are, however, exceptions. Big businesses benefit from economies of scale, which allows them to produce a product much more efficiently than smaller businesses. In many cases, the environmental impact of bulk shipping these goods from other parts of the world is outweighed by these benefits. For example, it makes sense that rice is mass-farmed in parts of Asia where the climate is appropriate and where water is abundant, rather than wasting this limited resource in places like the Western Cape. However, we need to keep in mind that just because something is done efficiently somewhere, doesn’t mean it can’t be done efficiently locally too.

On the other hand, small businesses have a relatively poor record of waste management. A large fast-food chain might have a service provider that can cope with its high volume of packaging waste. A small mom-and-pop outlet. on the other hand, might rely on generic polystyrene food containers that are disposed of in normal trash. Again, the negatives don’t necessarily outweigh the benefits, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind when you are wanting to support local businesses.

When you want to buy local, always remember, every business is “someone’s local” – if you’re unsure if a brand is ethical or environmentally responsible, do a quick Google search. You will likely find out what conditions are like in the factories, farms and communities where they are based. Trust the locals!

Who can I follow?

Word of mouth, Facebook, Instagram, local ads – these are the ways small local businesses amplify their presence, and you very likely already know great examples of businesses like these in your community. We couldn’t possibly list them all!

It’s also worth keeping an eye on local co-operative projects with the goal of upskilling community members. Some great examples here in Cape Town are Neighbourhood Farm which is working to tackle the issue of local food scarcity, citizen-led projects like Co-Create also working on small-scale community food gardens, and The Sewing Cafe (and their brand SO GOOD) focussing on upskilling women.

Upskilling the community is a big perk of small, local businesses, like at Neighbourhood Farm

On a nationwide scale, keep an eye out for the Proudly South African ecolabel – although not all local brands are members, this label generally means that a product is locally manufactured, follows South Africa’s environmental laws and at least has a policy in place to reduce its carbon footprint.

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