Local-washing Challenges Ethical Consumption

Ethical consumption whole-heartedly takes into consideration the three Ps: People, Planet, and Profits. Seen as the silver bullet, localization, has grown in great popularity once again. Now for the most part this is true, but is not without its complications. At a recent conference on Cross-Sector Collaboration for the Green Economy hosted by the University of Minnesota, I sat next to a woman who made the following declaration: “I am NOT fooled by all of the local stuff. I don’t believe local is sustainable at all, I just don’t.” Local-washing has become quite an issue that is often overlooked as companies spend endless resources on marketing campaigns. A brief look into the art of local-washing can help determine the “Dos” and Don’ts” as both an organization and as a consumer.

Local-Washing: Defined. Just as “Green” has become a mega-trend, companies trying to cash in on the ‘local’ market has spiked. Now this is not a bad thing on all levels. Local economies are proven to retain 68 cents of every $1 USD. The difference lies in how the “local” organization runs. When Wal-Mart promote items as “local”…feel free to call their bluff. Not because the product may not be made locally, but because at the heart of purchasing locally is to address the 3Ps, and the profit portion that supports local economies is missing. Money filtered through national and trans-national corporations ceases to be local. A small portion may go back to your local economy, but if your honest intention is to focus on ethical consumption, say no thanks. Everyone is claiming to have something local these days, whether it is local enough to meet your criteria and the 3 Ps must be decided by you, the end consumer. I suggest you keep your standards high to promote both progress and local sustainability and resilience.

Efficiency, Numbers, and Cold Rationale vs. Sustainability This issue was at the heart of the self-righteous lawyer who inspired this article. She hadn’t recognized the difference between “eco-efficiency” and “sustainability”. First, eco-efficiencies are great, they save us energy, money, and help reduce our impact, yet it is not a solution, but a methodology toward increased sustainability. Business methodologies like the Six Sigma Black Belt and Lean Supply Chain are all examples of eco-efficiencies. They are effective for profits, and may have some impact on the other two Ps, but sustainability and ethical consumption are not the objectives.

The point of the 3 Ps is to weigh and value them equally. When we are able to do this, we are able to invest in true ethical consumption. Investing in people including tradesmen, artists, and experts that are close to home help create a better sense of community. Investing in local resources, protecting them, and caring for them help us sustain and improve our local environment. Investing in one another also helps provide our communities more capital to invest in local projects, improve our quality of life, and see the direct result of our dollars.

Now not all things were meant to thrive locally. For instance, African bananas grown in Sweden sounds ridiculous, just as ridiculous as blocks of ice from Sweden being shipped to Africa for an Ice Bar. So what we choose to consume and remembering why we are choosing local (for the global good) becomes increasingly more important.

So what level of ethical consumption will you engage in and help thrive? It can be difficult at first, but investing our dollars in truly local sources can help keep our economies resilient, our neighbors happy, and our environment healthy. Since we are the ones dependent on our local environment for these things, it only makes sense that we are also responsible for investing in them. Will you join me?

Photo Credit: Leetranlam