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Conscious Consumption: A Component of Economic Transformation

The larger goal of buying local is economic transformation. We want to create an economy that is woven together with sustainable environmental practices and social values. The good news is that this transformation will begin at the local level and conscious consumption is one of the key components driving this change. Local philanthropy, including supporting the many fundraisers for non-profits and community organizations, is another key component. Supporting locally-owned banks is another. Buying directly from a small farm or participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another. Setting up bartering exchanges is another. All these actions contribute to transforming our local economies.
Conscious Consumption: A Component of Economic Transformation

For me, it is earrings. I love having dolphins or cats perched just above my shoulders. I am not alone in buying things beyond the bare necessities—those little things that make us smile or gifts that delight our loved ones.

Yes, I am mindful of the need not to deplete the earth's resources. At the same time, I accept that I do consume. We all do to varying degrees. I've lived in a log cabin in Alaska where the only way you could get to the nearest town 70 miles away was by canoe in the summer and dog sled in the winter. I chopped holes in the iced creek to haul water and then chopped wood in order to heat it up. But even there, in a place so remote that you could hear the hum of the earth spinning, I was not completely self-sufficient. I still traveled to town to buy kerosene, honey, wheat berries, lentils, dried milk, and peanut butter—all produced by other people.

Having done that, I can say unequivocally I no longer aspire to that level of self-sufficiency. I realize I cannot do it all, nor do I want to. The completely self-sufficient individual might be an American icon and a worthy goal but it is not achievable.

If we accept that we all consume goods and services to varying degrees, the issue then centers on the choices. I think of it as conscious consumption. If we are choosing to buy particular goods and services, can we buy them from the people who are producing them locally?

We have seen the data that shows buying local keeps our money circulating in the local economy. So the choice to buy local has a positive economic impact. Buying locally produced food and goods is also good for the environment because they require less gasoline for transport. Buying locally also builds the infrastructure for a sustainable community as the price of oil makes transporting goods too expensive.

For me, buying local is also important because it sustains the culture created by locally-owned businesses, artists, musicians, small farmers, and community organizations. Imagine living in a community without them. The local economy contributes to creating unique and vibrant communities. When people come to visit, we take them to places that reflect the uniqueness of our community. We bring them to concerts, plays and art galleries. We take them to our special coffee house, restaurant or wine bar. We bring them to hear an author or to a community discussion.

Choosing to buy local also supports people who have taken the risk to create a business as a way to earn their livelihood. This is not an easy thing. The joke about people starting their own business is that they are willing work 60 hours per week for themselves rather than 40 hours for someone else.

There are, of course, many ways to do work that matters; creating a business is just one option. But I am aware that when I buy services or products from my neighbors, I am enabling them to live their dream.

It is also true that having their own business enables people to do business in a way that reflects their values. Willow Whitton, owner of Holy Lamb Organics in Oakville Washington, states, "It's time for businesses to become true leaders for the environmental and social well-being of our world. It's not only about profit. We all want to be successful, but there are many ways we can measure success!"

Yes, the buy local mantra accepts that consumption is part of the human experience. However, you would had to have lived in a galaxy far, far away not to know that consumption has a shadow side: over-consumption and the production of goods without regard to social and environmental impacts.

Since I believe that few will choose to live in the woods of Alaska pursuing the rugged individualist self-sufficient path, then conscious consumption provides a middle-way.

Conscious consumption means making choices about how much to consume and from whom. While price and quality are factors in our decisions, conscious consumption requires more information. At a minimum, we need to know whether the business is locally owned. We might want to know other things as well, such as whether the business sells locally grown produce or locally made goods, engages in sustainable environmental practices, supports local musicians and artists, or contributes to the community in a wide variety of ways. As we learn about the owners and their stories, we might discover that many of our neighbors have ventured into businesses, including the many solopreneurs who work out of their homes and advertise on bulletin boards around town. It is necessary, therefore, to have online resources that make it easy to find this needed information.

I think it is important to also recognize that there are many factors to be considered when deciding to buy local. It is not necessarily an easy choice. For some with limited income, it may not be a good personal decision to buy local if it is a lot more expensive. For those of us advocating for people to buy local, it means accepting that not everyone can buy local 100 percent of the time. Anne Lamott, in Plan B, talks about the Church of Eighty Percent Sincerity, which lets people off the hook of perfection. If people choose local 80 percent of the time, that would be awesome. Maybe even less than that would still be enough to make a positive impact. Demands of 100 percent may push people away as to self-righteous; people don't like to feel judged. Not everyone wants to worship at our lady of perpetual guilt.

But the larger goal of buy local is economic transformation. We want to create an economy that is woven together with sustainable environmental practices and social values. The good news is that this transformation will begin at the local level and conscious consumption is one of the key components driving this change. Local philanthropy, including supporting the many fundraisers for non-profits and community organizations, is another key component. Supporting locally-owned banks is another. Buying directly from a small farm or participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another. Setting up bartering exchanges is another. All these actions contribute to transforming our local economies.