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Local is the New Organic in Vancouver BC -part 2-

What does local mean?

Local means different things to different people. It’s important to define what we mean, in order to clarify what we are talking about and to determine where value is created.

It’s important to have clear standards for things like organic certification, fair trade and sustainable wood products. Local is a classification that can easily lose meaning and be misinterpreted.

At Saul Good Gift Co. we use local products in our corporate gift baskets and promotional products. Our definition of local includes products that are sourced from within BC.

There are Business Improvement Associations (BIAs) that define local on the neighbourhood scale, helping their members purchase and support each other’s businesses. The Strathcona Green Zone, an initiative of the Strathcona BIA (SBIA) is leading the way in Vancouver, attracting the top progressive sustainability minded businesses from across the city and developing systems for companies to easily support each other through purchasing, and exchanging waste materials within the community.

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) defines local as having at least 51% ownership by someone who lives in the community and that the management is making autonomous decisions regarding purchasing. LoCo BC, an emerging Vancouver based organization in the BALLE network, is taking a more inclusive approach, wanting to encourage local and regional supply chains even if a company is owned by people outside of the community. Why discriminate against behaviour one’s trying to encourage? Sure, sourcing products and keeping profits in a community is better than importing everything and leaking all the cash but we’d rather support business models that actually are models for sustainability even if sacrificing local ownership.

Transparency and assurance

Do you want to know where your food comes from and where the products you consume are made? Have you ever wondered if the people who grew or made the items we consume everyday enjoy the great standard of living as we do in Vancouver and across Canada? When you know your farmer and producers of products, the veil of trade is lifted. One of the main reasons why our farmer’s markets are thriving is because you get to know your farmer. The field to fork story is a memorable one. Whether you’re feeding your family or hosting a dinner party, telling your friends and family about where their meal came from drives values for health, community and environment.

Where’s your shit from?

When looking at your business supply chain, its not always easy to understand the affect that one’s purchasing decisions have on the environment. Local purchasing definitely helps to cut down on the distance products travel, which reduces one’s environmental impact. However, it’s not a black or white situation. Not every product can be efficiently manufactured locally. Trying to manufacture all products locally could result in a larger carbon footprint. The footwear industry is a good example. Many of the materials used in shoes are specialized for the industry and are manufactured in Asia close to where the vast majority of footwear manufacturing takes place. If one was to build high performance footwear locally, they’d have to import materials from overseas. Shipping containers full of raw materials will take up more space than shipping containers of finished products, thus having a larger impact.

I’m not saying that manufacturing shoes locally wouldn’t create value for the local economy through job creation, but I do believe that we need to look at the whole picture of the business supply chain and the value it creates for all its stakeholders when developing and refining one’s business model and corporate strategy.

It’s a lot easier to grow a business in a centralized way, utilizing economies of scale in purchasing and production to minimize one’s cost per unit. It’s a lot harder to develop business models that create social, environmental and economic value in all the communities one operates in as a business grows. That’s our goal and as the global market changes with the cost of energy and consumer preferences for transparency, community and assurance we’ll see how the way business is done responds. I plan to see you there!