The five Ws of buying local, Part 2

The five Ws of buying local, Part 2

The why and where are the trickier parts of buying local, though the conundrum doesn’t end there.

WHO should buy local?

You, of course. You and your wallet have control over the success of local. Because of all the advantages of buying local, your purchases benefit you and your community. You buy local because you care about the local economy and the place you live in.

On the flipside, I’m reminded of the song chorus, “If everybody looked the same, we’d be tired of looking at each other.” Would we get tired of local if everybody were buying it, the same way mass production makes everything look blandly alike? With economic diversity, which entails better product choice, as a major argument for buying local, this may not happen. Yet by doing just one thing, buying local in this case, you may be undermining the diversity principle of sustainability.

Similarly, just as hybrid owners drive more, you may think buying local takes care of your commitment to sustainability. Though your commitment to buying local may be admirable, buying local is but one piece of a big, complex picture. It also is a matter of prioritizing your sustainable pursuits and how buying local ranks on your list.

WHEN to buy local?

All the time, as the proponents of buying local would have it. If it’s not available locally at the time you need it, like with seasonal produce, you shouldn’t buy it.

Many things stand in the way of buying local only when it’s available. Tradition, habit, convenience, alternatives, seasons… My parents always managed to obtain mandarines around Christmas even in the dead of the communist winter – should I now give them up because no one grows mandarines in Oregon? No cars are made in Oregon – should my wife and I give up our Civic? You get the picture. It all ties back into how buying local fits into the scheme of things. You can’t always buy local.

WHAT is local?

Local products are made or sourced locally; local companies are owned and operated locally. We have seen that the geography of local can be contentious (how far is still local?), and we have seen that not all things local would pass the buying local proponents’ muster (Nike in my city’s backyard). You can’t know the ownership structure or supply chains of every locally-based company.

That original newsletter article asked me to buy from businesses who are my chamber of commerce members. Yet not only does the Portland Business Alliance’s membership comprise a minority of local businesses, the PBA and its members often take stances on community issues I don’t support.

Similarly, the main voice for buying local is the Sustainable Business Network of Portland and its Local First campaign. Again, not every business belongs to the Network, and you can’t source all your needs strictly from the Network’s members.

It turns out local is more complicated than it seems. More than anything, local is a state of mind, a mental shortcut, a preference. It’s certainly not the panacea for building a sustainable economy. At best, it’s one strategy among many.

Implications of buying local for sustainable marketing

Every sustainable business should keep these 5Ws of buying local in mind, if only because local can be argued both ways. Do you really want to have your local-ness scrutinized? Sure, there are customer personas and target audience segments for whom buying local matters, so if you want their business, use the local angle. Just like green, however, local may be a niche strategy and end up coming across as gimmicky. Ultimately, local is a secondary consideration in the purchasing process. People don’t focus on local – they want their problems solved. The quality of your product or service and how it satisfies your customers’ needs trumps what you say about its local origins.


This commentary can be found originally at: Sustainable Marketing Blog by Peter Korchnak.  Better triple bottom line.