Think Green: Shop Local

Today, I’d like to issue a new rallying cry for all bricks & mortar retailers, for all local shopkeepers:

Think Green: Shop Local

There’s nothing new about the idea of local shopping, of course; but if ever there was a time to emphasise our green credentials as local shops, this is it: the run up to Christmas. Millions of individual items individually packaged and individually shipped out by the online giants such as Amazon and Eden, each one eating away away at the environment and increasing our nation’s carbon footprint.

Consider the impact of dozens of small packages sent out to dozens of different addresses all within a short distance of one another compared to one or two consolidated consignments delivered to a single drop off point at a local shop.

Consider the sheer weight of your local postie’s delivery bag!

Consider the tedium of sitting in, waiting for that delivery… of it turning up just as you’ve nipped out… of then having to rearrange delivery or go and fetch it from the sorting office… when all the while, just around the corner, there’s a local shopkeeper whose job it is to wait for deliveries, to deal with them, to let you know it’s arrived and can be collected at your convenience, or who might even drop it in to you on his or her way home!

So next time you’re about to be seduced by the siren call of Amazon’s or Eden’s low prices and carriage-free shipping, listen again to that siren: is it an emergency in the making?

Is the immediate saving you’re making and the convenience of shopping from home really worth the price future generations will have to pay as they wade through the landfill sites and rubbish tips we’re leaving behind? Don’t be fooled: we may be leaving our garbage behind: the future is taking it forward.

Think Green: Shop Local

L is for Lifestyle

Whilst we’re on the subject, congratulations to Ruth Valerio on the recent launch of the ‘L’ is for Lifestyle website to accompany the updated edition of her book of the same title. It’s all about planet-friendly living, full of tips and ideas on how each of us can begin to make a difference. You can buy a copy direct from IVP post-free in the UK if you want to… but I hope that after all I’ve said above you’ll pay a visit to your local Christian bookshop instead, where you can interact with real books, real people.

9 thoughts on “Think Green: Shop Local

  1. I really do support the idea of local shopping (in fact I am trying to get a local cooperative toagther to be able to supply local produce at a price that takes it out of the ‘waitrose’ price bracket for ordinary people).

    However, I do question the ‘green’ argument. For books to get to a local bookshop the supply chain may look like this:

    Publisher – Freight forwarder/delivery – Distributor – Shop

    but with the possibility of a wholesaler in the mix as well. This means that book has travelled many miles before getting to the shop in a box of 30 – 40 books. Even if it comes direct from a publisher it still means the publisher is delivering several hundred boxes daily around the UK to Christian bookshops.

    Then, each customer travels into town to buy the book, and based on statistics is more likely to use a car than public transport (as most people will live in the suburbs – London is probably the only exception).

    To buy from an internet retailer the supply chain will look like this:

    Publisher – distributor – retailer, with only one shipment from distributor to retailer, who due to warehousing rather than retail space will probably be more energy efficient in storage.

    Then, the parcels go from retailer to customer in a series of deliveries (not one vehicle per purchase as per local shopping). Some companies are now doing ‘carbon neutral’ deliveries, where they offset their carbon usage.

    So – it seems to me that there is little advantage either way in shopping based on this argument. Local shopping is really only ‘green’ when buying local produce.

    I am not saying ‘don’t use your local Christian bookshop’ AT ALL. I am just pointing out the pitfalls in the eco-argument.

  2. I think the biggest loss is experience, just the joy of browsing a good bookshop. As an avid reader and book-buyer, there’s few things I like more than browsing in a bookshop. Even with its ‘look inside’ gimmicks on the books, Amazon is a very poor substitute.

    Thanks for the heads up about Valerio’s new site too. Will check that out.

  3. Casaubon – you’ve lost me there. How do you work out that the supply chain to an internet retailer is any different to the supply chain to a bricks and mortar retailer?

    The books still have to go from publisher via freight forwarder to seller: in either case there may or may not be a distributor or wholesaler somewhere in between. It makes no difference whether it’s a shop on the high street or a warehouse on the Welsh borders.

    I’ve questioned several publishers: most tell me that they do not supply Amazon direct — they supply wholesalers such as Gardners, who then supply Amazon.

    As for the heating etc – the warehouses may not be as well heated as shops, but they still have to heat their offices and picking and packing areas. Swings and roundabouts come to mind.

    The big difference, however, is the individual packaging and the individual shipping when the books go out of the warehouse. That’s something that picking up products from a local shop really does cut down on. As I said, consolidated consignments v/s lots of little packages: cumulatively, it’s a massive difference.

    As for people who drive instead of using public transport or walking: that’s a lifestyle choice. ‘L’ is for Lifestyle. It’s time for change, big time!

  4. It’s all well and good, but the harder task is finding people that generate an ethic that supports our brothers and sisters OVER the enviroment. I’m not sayin that being green is a problem, but I’m sure preventing Red is. I think out of my choices, I’d rather shop on something like and support an internet site like this, than worry about the enviroment and shop in other local stores that rip off those around the world.
    Saying that, I’m sure it’s the same argument in the long run.

  5. Phil

    The supply chain issue is simply. The Wholesaler sends to one retailer (online) rather than hundreds of retailers (bricks and mortar).

    Here is a quote from a Green Logistics study:

    “the overall difference to vehicle mileage made by the ability to shop online was minimal”


    I agree that ethical shopping is more important than local for many products – clothing, food (especially products with problems of exploitation – my local corner shop doesn’t sell fairtrade). I’m not sure this is much of an issue with books though.

    I think that local Christian bookshops need to either be a business – and work hard at that side of things (customer service, product range, location, merchandising, atmosphere etc) or be a ministry, a ‘beacon’ in the world of the high street, and should seek support from ministries and local churches to enable this. I think the practical reality is that relying on people to buy from a shop out of goodwill alone is not a long-term viable option.

  6. Phil,

    The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) are also running a think local campaign – due to reaseach estimating that by 2012 there will be no small independent businesses and retailers left at the rate we are going!
    Local is a community issue, the fact that we seem to be loosing local at an astounding speed sums up the break down in community ethos if you ask me.
    If I have no regard to the local community prefering global/national cheap over my neighbour then that’s a sad reflection on societal value, and if I don’t care about my neighbour then I sure as heck aren’t likely to care about those further afield really. Charity – and ethical values – really do begin at home.
    That said I am not entirely against e-comm, I see it having a role to play as well – it’s just a role that should not be at the cost of others livelihoods due to unfair pricing and grants schemes! – rather e-comm does serve a sector that Local might not always be best placed to do so – think rural, think homebound, think nightworker, think foreign shopper wanting something we do nationally, think titles local shop not able to get. See plenty of scope there for both types of retail and commerce, if we work as a community, as cohesive unity without greed as our basic principal.
    So ok that said, Phil can I use your post and turn it into a big poster in my shop please? and possibly in my local dioc. newsletters etc – full kudos being given to yourself of course!

  7. Melanie, yes, feel free to recycle my post, wherever and whenever you will! I’m well into recycling 😉

    As you say, charity begins at home; the problem is that for many people, it seems to end at home as well!

    I’m not against online shopping, far from it: in all those circumstances you mention — rural, housebound etc etc — it’s much more than a convenience: it’s vital!

    What bothers me is people simply not thinking through the consequences of changing their shopping habits. It’s like the people who only ever go to church for weddings and funerals complaining when churches close down. Hello, people? Wake up!!

    Casaubon: you’re having a laugh, aren’t you? “The Wholesaler sends to one retailer (online) rather than hundreds of retailers (bricks and mortar).” There are as many if not more online stores than there are bricks and mortar stores. So it’s double or triple the damage because all those consignments sent to the online sellers are then individually repackaged etc and redistributed all over the country one at a time… and all that packaging then has to go to landfill or recycling…

    As for business v/s ministry: it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. I’m not asking people to shop with their local retailer (whether that’s a Christian bookshop or any other retailer) out of goodwill but because they value the service the shop provides, and I agree 100%: service is what it’s about — hence my closing remark up there: real books: real people. If we as retailers lose our focus on service then we have no business being in business. As Melanie says, it’s about community, about looking beyond the smash and grab value of a bargain to something more valuable.

    It’s exactly the same principle as fair trade: people pay higher prices for fair trade products because they value what fair trade stands for. My customers choose to buy a bar of fair trade chocolate from me when they could easily buy another bar of chocolate 20p cheaper up the road precisely because they recognise the intrinsic value of fair trade.

    So think green: think community: think personal service — shop local.

  8. Casaubon, Couldn’t find that quote on the site – can you tell me though was it referring to the ‘last mile’, the freight transport, or the whole deal?
    Cause the interesting quotes on the site I found were: (capitalisations are mine)

    “Several previous studies have tried to assess the environmental effects of ecommerce-related logistics developments. Most have recognised that ecommerce can exert counteracting pressures on these environmental effects, making it difficult to predict its net impact. Writing in 2001, Hopkinson and James, for example, argued that ‘It is too early, despite first order benefits, to give e-business a green light as a creator of sustainable logistics. But equally, there is not sufficient evidence to argue that it should be impeded by a red light. The current signal is amber, with some warning signs that the second order effects could be at variance with sustainable distribution.’ SIX YEARS ON, WE STILL HAVE LIMITED UNDERSTANDING OF THE WAYS IN WHICH E-PROCUREMENT AND ONLINE RETAILING ARE EFFECTING THE ENVIRONMENT.”

    and also:
    “It has been argued, for example, that purchasing a product online and having it delivered to the home will produce less CO2 than shopping for that product in the traditional way. Previous research in Finland, the US and the UK provides some empirical support for this claim, THOUGH THIS WORK HAS BEEN UNDERPINNED BY NUMEROUS ASSUMPTIONS and focused on particular categories of product, mainly groceries and books. ”

    Also as Phil has said, your second post is built upon one of those assumptions referred to above, namely that there is only one online retailer as opposed to numberous ones – this is a patently false hypothesis as we have at least 2 online bookshop retailers based here in lincoln alone – of which I mean they are only online retailers and not part of the bricks and mortar stores! if we add in bricks and mortar stores that trade online then I know personally of at least 7 within the wider lincoln area (possibly more!) as they trade either through their own websites or through ebay/amazon/abe/alibris etc. These also have to count in the equation.

    I do agree with you in one aspect of your first post as to the green credentials if based solely on transport and mileage etc, then yes I agree not necessarily much difference, but like Phil said its the land fill issue that makes the difference! but then when the discussed ‘pay per bag’ of refuse comes in it might be interesting to see how much of an impact that might have on our final buying decisions?

    Does your corner shop really not sell any Fair trade? most spar, happy shopper and even independent stores tend to carry some fair trade, even if only in the teabags, coffee and red wine section. And by the way local doesn’t have to be the small local corner shop though I do find our local newsagent and corner shop a great place for keeping up with what’s going on in the area! Your town centre or local shopping precinct is also local to you.
    Lets not forget that if you are buying locally produced and grown produce, ie milk, meat, eggs, veggies, bread etc from your local greengrocer, butcher, baker, farmers market etc then that’s pretty good fair trade as well, the only thing missing is the developing country (and no I am not taking this issue lightly) The Fairtrade Foundation defines Fair Trade as,

    “Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.”

    That to me is the type of definition we should all be working to – I like the bit about Local Sustainability quite a lot, of and prices never falling less than the market price! yep tht to me is fair trade, and you know what it should work everywhere.

    Indeed the Fairtrade Foundation on Buying Locally states:

    “The Fairtrade Foundation recognises that many farmers in the UK face similar issues to farmers elsewhere, not least ensuring that they get a decent return for upholding decent social and environmental standards in their production. We therefore support the promotion of sustainable production for UK farmers but our specific role will continue to be supporting farmers from the developing world.

    Fairtrade isn’t in competition with UK farmers and the purchase of locally produced and Fairtrade products are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”

    Sounds good doesn’t it – I think it should apply to more than just farmers and food though! It should work in all things. now wouldn’t that be a good thing to work towards!

    Oh and by the way – most Christian shops I know are guided by at least one or the other (or as Phil says for most of us it’s both!) of the principals you espouse in the end of your post, they don’t last long if they don’t.
    Oh and have you told Oxfam, Age Concern and all the other charity shops that you
    “think the practical reality is that relying on people to buy from a shop out of goodwill alone is not a long-term viable option.”? Because I guess they should know this given how long they have been doing it – as I understand it in America they call them ‘goodwill’ shops?
    Ahh but wait, didn’t I hear that Oxfam was concerned about ebay as their donations had dropped in line with the rise of ebay selling! so then again – maybe what you are talking about is just indicative and all part of that larger breakdown of social and community adhesion and feeling I am so concerned about.

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