The Local Imperative: Local & Sustainable Products

by Kathy Smail

In this age of ever increasing political and economic change, and environmental damage, local sustainability is imperative for the well being of communities. Our ‘little’ island, which is not really small but has a proportionally small population, is feeling the tug of growth and development, and an eroding of sustainability. 

So what is sustainability and what is sustainable? It simply means living within the limits of what our local environment can safely support: that old cliché, living in harmony with nature. We could get bogged down in defining limits as the dirty water rises above our knees, our geography precludes total self reliance, or we can be proactive; plan for the future, learn from the past, reign in our habits of over consumption, and be conscious of the consumer choices we make that contribute to, or detract from, local sustainability. 

One stunning example is market demand for shrimp. The environmental impact on developing countries to meet demands for the product have resulted in large losses of tropical mangrove forests, and salination of rice paddies that normally feed local inhabitants. Destruction of ocean life and habitat by shrimp trawling (scouring sea beds with huge conical nets) continues globally and in our local waters. Do we really need shrimp on our table? Why not buy fish from local fishers and oysters from local growers? And ask them how they harvest. 

You can get wood for your house cheaper at a big outlet lumberyard but what is the real price? One aspect of imported products is the addition to fossil fuel use and global warming. The farther away the product is, the higher the environmental cost. Another aspect is the cost of supporting corporate ‘middlemen’ and global advertising, to the detriment of wages paid directly to the producer. Can you downscale your plans, buy local wood, hire local carpenters, and thereby support the local economy and decrease your ecological footprint? 

What about our local and regional farmers? By encouraging local markets to buy locally and regionally produced food, we lessen the pressure for large monoculture production and increase incentives for diverse crops that require less pesticides, are more nourishing, and support our local economy. 

There are so many ways we can move toward sustainability and each step, like each drop in the bucket, will get us there. By acting locally we are helping globally. 

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[From WS May/June 2004]

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