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Shop Smart

Posted on 28 October 2011 by Jason

Today, Americans can tap into one of the best bargains around by voting to support our local and regional economies. By shifting our shopping to locally owned and operated retailers and service providers, we help create and retain area jobs, support community commerce and build valuable relationships and social connections within our community. With every local purchase, we leave the store enriched, having deepened both community social capital and genuine wealth.

Imagine the joy of knowing that your purchase contributes to the dentist supplying braces for the local grocer’s kids, the local insurance agent’s mortgage payment, the local banker’s roof repair and the local roofer’s dinner— all of them friends and neighbors. The list of benefits—from shoring up local home values to ensuring access to local produce—keeps expanding as your dollars continue to circulate within the community.

Yet, finding a fuller range of locally made items at locally owned stores will continue to be challenging until shoppers demand it. One way to begin aligning purchases with your values is by patronizing stores that offer socially responsible and fair trade items.

Shaktari Belew, author of Honoring All Life: A Practical Guide to Exploring a New Reality, explains how purchasing goods and services can actually create local community wealth for all if they are specifically designed for that outcome. “When items are designed to be created and sold locally, everyone involved benefits, from the suppliers that obtain the raw materials through those that manufacture, sell and buy the finished item. Even the environment benefits.”

Belew encourages our learning as much as possible about purchases. “Once people are aware of the two vital concepts of localization and design, they will be better able to scrutinize purchases,” advises this designer and wholesystems thinker who focuses on resilient community design. As a Transition US.org workshop leader and one of the primary designers of the Community Engagement Process for Unified Field Corporation’s whole-systems/ quadruple bottom line financial model, this Oregon resident tries to follow her own advice. “The Cradle to Cradle C2C certification helps,” she says.

The C2C program is an eco-label authorized by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, co-founded in 1995 by William McDonough, the author of Cradle to Cradle. The certification process assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment, plus its potential for future life cycles. The “program focuses on using safe materials that can be disassembled and recycled for another purpose or composted as biological nutrients. To date, hundreds of items, from building materials, bedding and linens, baby care and haircare products to personal and household cleaning products, have been C2C certified.

If you plan to ship gifts long distances this gift-giving season, why not use the first C2C-certified consumer product—a U.S. Postal Service packing box? It exemplifies how a complex good design makes a product people- and planet-friendly. All 60 of the product’s boxes, decals and labels, involving 1,400 component materials, had to be certified, but the benefits are big: reduced costs for handling waste and disposing of hazardous materials; plus, the receiver may easily recycle the item with a free conscience.

“Imagine a closed-loop market system in which any number of items made from finite resources such as glass, paper, steel, plastic and cloth are designed to be reused in a near-endless cycle,” says Belew. “Imagine a world of goods designed for easy repair and maintenance, rather than obsolescence.”

Belew, the designer of Will’s Bills, a form of complementary currency, also recommends buying items that have long-term reusability specific to our needs. “My daughter loves a particular curry sauce, which comes in a little glass jar with a screw-top lid,” she relates. Rather than recycle the jars, the family reuses them for storing small things at home. “They’re also the perfect size for single servings,” she says.

Sometimes, just a simple shift in perspective can change an item from trash to treasure.

Linda Sechrist is an editor of Natural Awakenings community magazines.

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