One of the talents I am well-known to possess is my ability to find just about anything, be it in information or, as I love to employ it, that one very special perfect gift.
My secret when it comes to unique goods for myself or others is in shunning the corporate. At the moment, I’m not going to use this as my platform to elaborate on the evils of big business in America (although they do exist and are some fiercely strong ones, too), but would rather focus on all the fantastic benefits of supporting small businesses and how exactly this is eco-friendly and how you can get started on breaking your wages from the hands of the big guys.
1. Supply – Demand: Demand less from the overstocked chains
The concept is simple. When we acquire a good through a local or other independent business (for the purposes of today, we are including both local businesses and those businesses that maintain an online inventory as well), we become one less consumer for a large retail brand. As more people pull out of the big market, the need to stock this product as heavily falls.
What does this have to do with the environment? Many of the goods sold in large chain retailers come from oversea manufacturers where emissions and other pollutant regulations are, for the most part, rather loose, if existent at all. The less we need them to create, the less that particular plant has to produce in waste; as well, the less that has to be shipped across seas in various forms of packaging and transportations. Even if you are ordering from an online independent seller in your country, the shipping across a country simply doesn’t compare to the waste of shipping across an ocean.
Imagine how much more green there could be if we knocked out the confidence of large retail chains to build so many and plan for so many consumers to park in their lots.
2. See it circle back into your community
A Civic Economics study in February 2013 found that for every one million dollars spent, 45% of a million in a local business found its way back into the local community, as compared to only 17% of every million spent in a large retail chain store. This is one of the things that makes the call to “buy black” so potentially powerful in the black community: imagine if nearly half of what you spend in a retailer came back to support your neighbours, retail areas, and, through local taxes, even your schools and services.
Even if that money doesn’t touch you directly – say, in the case you order from an independent seller located in Atlanta, while you live in DC – if you care at all about the human condition, knowing that money is likely going to benefit creative and conscious individuals more like you rather than individuals more like the 1%, in my humble opinion, has got to be satisfying. And here you may have die-hard “go locals” cry out for the environmental costs of mailing an item, but a) I promised making this easy and part of that is being realistic because b) you’re simply not going to find all that you might want or need, especially in the case of specialty items, locally.
Not sure off the top of your head how more money in your local community is good for the environment? Well, firstly, let’s remember this blog is about sustaining the earth and ourselves, which includes our neighbour. Secondly, to continue addressing this question more directly, consider places in your neighbourhood where there are some abandoned or less dapper looking storefronts – now imagine how these things might change if a local business needed to expand, get a new space, or had the money to fix up their current one. Cleaner and more functioning businesses often means things like more regular clean-up of sidewalks, building maintenance, and other administrative concerns the non-businessminded may not ever think about but still have a major impact on the environment, from mood to the actual ecosystem (one such improvement could be updating an appliance that uses less electricity or doesn’t require dangerous chemicals to operate).
Additionally, someone producing local goods may very likely be relying on other local sources to get the materials to do so – the overall local economy is thereby strengthened.
3. Support Innovation & Opportunities for Customization
This is half-personal bonus for you and half-potential victory for the environment. The personal bonus is that local and independent sellers – particularly those that make their own products, such as is often the case with those found at Etsy (more info below) – is there is a lot of room for you to have something tweaked in just the way you need it. Find a beautiful handmade leather journal to gift a friend but you want a wooden button instead of a cord? Never hurts to ask. Most sellers that create their own product, in my experience, enjoy the opportunity to do something differently than they have before – it may not have been something they imagined and the challenge could stretch their own abilities further.
This ties into the potential victory for the environment – as independent sellers get more wiggle room for experimentation and don’t have a board of members to report to, they can find new ways to craft a product or improve another. Because small businesses don’t have a great deal of excess money to throw on waste, they will also stay attuned to being sustainable in this way. It’s no guarantee, but the more supplied we keep creative minds and ideas, the better off our chances for new and better solutions, intentional or otherwise.
On-board? Here are some places to start:
First, let me be transparent – if you use the link provided above to create your account, you get a $5 credit instantly – and so do I. Even if this weren’t the case, however, Etsy is one of my favourite online forums where independent sellers can open their own shops to sell vintage and handmade almost anything, from jewelry to cell phone covers to furniture to stationery to cat clothes to terrariums – truly almost anything.
Fab is a marketplace much like Etsy but with a more modern, vivid look and less of a call for vintage seekers. Whereas any shop on Etsy has most control over its shipping and refund policies, Fab does lean towards standardization on the matter, so, a little like buying third-party through Amazon, you are working more with a middle-man here. It’s not my favourite, if I’m honest, but there’s good stuff to be found here and, hey, it isn’t Wal-Mart. You’ve also got to appreciate their organization of the website, unless you enjoy a good dig.
QuirkyShops is somewhere in between Fab’s modernism and Etsy’s support of independent shops in that it is a marketplace for independent sellers to congregate, but, like Fab, is more modern in offerings (again, if you want Vintage, Etsy is the place to go) and ultimately just more limited in selection.
SeekItLocal (Businesses and Services)
This site attempts to be something of a white pages for local businesses, although it doesn’t always hit the mark. Because it’s up to the business owner to be aware of this page, many local businesses may be left out. Still, if you’re trying to find something in your city, it’s worth a check. Local.yahoo.com may be a better target.
Angie’s List (Services)
Not only does it, upon a quick glance, appear to have a more updated list of local businesses (I check it against my area), but it combines ranking elements of Yelp (which also helps to find some local businesses, especially when it comes to restaurants) to let prior customers give feedback on their experiences. This site does target services more explicitly.
If you’re dedicated to finding a local shop, outside of Google, Yelp, and word of mouth, my best recommendation is to get out and do some hunting. I’ve found many adorable boutiques and local coffee shops simply by accident. Areas to target in your city are “main streets” of the historic and arts districts (assuming you have them), areas near your Chinatown (if you have this) or other regional-based area, and small strip malls. Also keep an eye out for farmer’s markets, local outdoor events, and other local exchanges that may happen less frequently where vendors are likely to set up – it’s highly probable these people have a permanent location you can inquire about when you find them.
Task: Ranges from easy to requiring moderate effort, depending on the good and whether or not you’re willing to go the online route and ask mother earth to forgive your support of the postal system.
Fit into Budget: Varies, but I am generally able to find more typical items – such as books, candles, workout gear – cheaper than I would at big retail. As for specialty items, well, when it comes to gift-giving, I tend to stray from my cheap tendencies and quite extravagantly. It’s just my nature.