My thanks and gratitude to Christina Keibler (www.christinakeibler.com) for the inspiring discussion of what "local" means. I have attempted to share the essence of our conversation from across our different video calls and email.
Most have considered the definition of local settled for a while, and there is an underlying understanding in the academic world of what that means. It’s tough to define the exact circumference of what "local" means because of variation within regions, but traditionally it is defined as something produced or grown within 100 to 250 miles of purchase. A survey by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture found that the 100-mile definition is the most widely accepted by the general population. Others feel it is food/items grown or manufactured within a day's drive, which can be about 500 miles. However, "local" doesn't go beyond that from a geographical perspective.
Local is so much more than geography; it is also cultural. Local means supporting the people in your area and considering the impact that your company (or brand) is having on their community. There is the definite economic impact, whether support comes from buying goods or materials, hiring from the local population, or investing in sustainable practices. The money stays in an area and benefits a community’s people. But beyond the economic benefit, designing a more local business model promotes community development and can reduce environmental and public health impacts. These are huge positives, and brands have a moral obligation to do so, whether they believe that or not.
The challenge, though, is that it will be the rare regional or national brand that can say "We are 100% local!" without it being a lie. So larger brands need to do what they can in a genuine way to be sustainable and local whenever possible. From biggest to smallest degrees, this could mean:
- Source and manufacture most goods and services within 250 miles of purchase point, and hire all local employees. Also hire vendors locally (insurance, advertising services, graphic design, etc.) and be sure management lives in the community, too. Make sure all buildings are solar powered, recycle water, drive hybrid vehicles, etc. Following these practices would be the "gold star" of local.
- In the middle, there would be a gradual decrease in the above, as brands lose their ability to find local services or sources. But surely they can still be sustainable in their practices much more than they are.
- The smallest thing brands could do, an improvement over the current state, is making a concerted effort to "be local" in a small way. Moreover, call that thing out: "All of our employees are local hires" or "We buy all of our cooking greens from local farms" or "All of our delivery vehicles are electric!". Recognize, though, that just throwing money at sponsorships does not count.
So being “local,” like all things, is a process and companies will understandably need balance some factors as they implement local initiatives. What is most important is to not just pay lip-service to "local"...prove it with solid, public, meaningful actions that benefit the people in the community in a real way. Commit to the success of every person in a community, and the return on that investment will be thriving sustainable brands.