More and more, we hear and see messages telling us to buy and eat "local." If we press a bit into what this means and why we should do it, we're likely to get some general statement about it being good for us and good for our communities. But how so? Is it really worth the trouble, when "local" sounds like a synonym for expensive? Isn't it often easier just to buy at and do business with large chains that make keeping prices competitive their number-one priority?
In the short run, perhaps. But in the longer term, there are numerous valuable benefits to "going green" and supporting the enterprises in your local community at the same time. Read on for the top five reasons businesses should consider doing both now.
A boon to the local economy
This is the top reason you're likely to have come across for "shopping local": supporting the local economy. What does that really mean, though? When more of the money that you earn stays where you've earned it, it helps forge a local supply chain that keeps and creates local jobs. In turn, if the people who have those jobs prosper, they're more likely to stay put and keep their money local, too -- as are you and your business.
What's more, locally owned businesses tend to keep more workers during economic downturns than do large chains. So by buying locally, you're contributing to job security, too.
When it comes to human health, there are some matters about which pretty much everyone agrees -- that fruits and vegetables are good for you is probably one of these. But what happens between the point at which that produce leaves the ground and the time we buy it is a topic we all ought to weigh more heavily.
"Only 1% of all food consumed in the entire United States is direct from farm to consumer," writes the blog staff at GrubMarket, a farm-to-table food delivery service. "The other 99% ends up in grocery stores, manufacturing and processing plants. Most of these foods have been adulterated with additives to keep them from spoiling. If you buy from this 99% market segment, you are paying more for refined sugars, chemicals you cannot pronounce or process, packaging, shipping, wages, marketing, branding, etc. You’re basically paying a high premium for things you don’t need ... and things that [wreak] havoc on your body."
An improved planet
It may often be cheaper to buy your veggies at the local big-box retailer, but consider the "food miles" those discount carrots have traveled to make it to your grocery cart.
"Nowadays, it is not only tropical foodstuffs, such as sugar, coffee, chocolate, tea, and bananas, that are shipped long distances to come to our tables," writes staff at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). "It is also fruits and vegetables that once grew locally, in household gardens and on small farms. An apple imported to California from New Zealand is often less expensive than an apple from the historic apple-growing county of Sebastopol, just an hour away from San Francisco."
In fact, if you're like most people, much of the food you ate today traveled at least 1,000 miles to get to you. It doesn't take a sustainability expert to realize that translates to a tremendous amount of energy consumption, most of it likely of the fossil-fuel variety -- and that means pollution. Switching from conventionally purchased to locally bought for even just a single food item could mean a savings of thousands of food miles.
Given that the majority of us say the sustainability practices of companies are a key factor in our decisions about which products to buy on a daily basis, it's clear that going green is no longer some fad for the fringe. Increasingly, the average person cares about the environment and their role in its health and projected future. What does this mean for businesses? Go green -- if you haven't already -- and improve your workforce's outlook on life.
"Commercially, going green is a no-brainer," writes contributor Janelle Sorensen in a Huffington Post piece. "Some studies show that a healthier office building means a serious decrease in the number of sick days workers take off – saving anywhere from $37-55 per square foot of the building annually."
In two recent case studies conducted by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), people whose homes were given 'green makeovers' reported significant -- and long-lasting -- health and mood benefits. After making the switch to eco-friendly digs, "the quality of life for families improved: fewer sleepless nights, less lost work and school days, increased exercise and outdoor activities, and lower medical expenses,” according to the study.
You may not think the two go together, but "eco-friendly" and "productivity" share a strong link. In one study, employees at companies with "green" practices were 16 percent more efficient than employees at companies without such practices. According to one of the study's authors: “Employees in such green firms are more motivated, receive more training and benefit from better interpersonal relationships. The employees at green companies are therefore more productive than employees in more conventional firms.”
A Harvard study found that those who worked "in office buildings with certified green credentials" had 26-percent better cognition. "Essentially, this means that greener offices have the capacity to improve the thought processing, problem solving and decision making abilities of employees, which can have a huge knock-on effect on productivity," writes Reno Macri, RecruitLoop contributor.
Perhaps another reason for the improved moods of individuals at companies with eco-friendly practices is due to their being surrounded by green -- quite literally. A recent trend in the sustainable-workplaces movement has been to add plants to office settings, and with good reason: Plants have been shown to have a significant calming effect on people.
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