“Buy local” has become such a common refrain that it sometimes seems part of the annual holiday noise, like the strains of “Little Drummer Boy” played in the big-box stores. But purchasing goods and services close to home has some surprising benefits and we might want to pay attention.
It goes almost without saying that more of the money spent in locally owned stores will stay within the community. What is a surprise is how much — and how broad the overall economic effect is, thanks to a multiplying effect. For example, when a nearby food purveyor gets produce from local farmers then hires a local accountant to manage the books, everyone gains. Another positive is an increased sense of community, especially where there is direct-to-consumer contact, as at one of our area’s many seasonal craft markets. Local businesses also donate to local organizations at a rate far outpacing their giant, corporate competitors.
There may be no better symbol than a morning cup of coffee, made from beans roasted locally, as opposed to one from the ubiquitous chain, even if its chief executive has a vacation house here. But you can also buy a chicken grown on Long Lane in East Hampton or knit something for a friend from wool grown close to home.
It turns out, too, that online shopping’s greenhouse emissions significantly come from the “last mile” of distribution networks — postal and package service vehicles. Though companies like UPS and FedEx have worked to reduce their carbon footprints, the impact of large vans delivering single items day in, day out, remains disproportional. As of now, UPS’s target date to be fully carbon-neutral is not until 2050. Along the same lines, a single driver headed to the Riverhead malls and back will use far more energy than someone who shops on Main Street.
Holiday travel is a big part of many people’s plans this time of year. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Americans who do leave town to see family or friends range about 275 miles on average, largely in personal vehicles. While visiting grandma and grandpa may not be optional, how far we go to buy presents is. Think of it: The money you save on gas could go a long way to paying for that pair of Air Jordans on your secret Santa recipient’s wish list.
All the “stuff” comes at a high environmental cost — 25 percent more waste is produced in the United States between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. By one estimate, only a small fraction of the things we buy remain in use six months after purchase.
Arguments for online and big-box shopping are their convenience and selection. However, given the economic benefits, as well as the fact that it is better for the planet, we hope that buying local will be a big part of your holiday plans.