In the last three months, we’ve collectively and individually gone through waves of change that we never could have imagined. Our awareness of some aspects of our lives, such as essential services and products has become much more heightened. The impact that closures have had on our ability to access material goods has been a topic of conversation and concern. Many issues have been brought to light, such as vulnerabilities in supply-chains, as well as the importance of local business in the fabric of our communities. The adjustments that people have had to make have been a testament to how flexible and adaptable our society can be. With these adjustments, there is opportunity to ensure that our new ways of life, whatever they end up looking like, are built on habits that continue to support our local businesses to help build economic and community resilience.

What is “Local”?

  • Local is by bioregion1 (Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University)
  • Local is within 100-miles2 (authors of ‘The 100-mile Diet’)
  • Local is by province3 (LOCO BC)

There is no standardized or one agreed upon definition of ‘local’.

The general idea is that the closer to home something is produced and purchased, the more local it is.

One way to conceptualize what ‘local’ means, is to think of yourself in the middle of a concentric circle (one with many rings). Each ring represents your house, your neighbourhood, then your city, region and province, etc.

When we consider a supply chain and a food system, we consider every component of that product or service that we are purchasing (i.e. material extraction, production, delivery, etc.) and which ring each component sits in.  The closer all the components are to the center of the ring (i.e. you!) the more ‘local’ they are.

Do you want to learn how you can continue to support local businesses and reduce the impact of online shopping? Skip to the bottom and read ‘How to shop locally during a pandemic’

How COVID-19 has changed Canadian shopping habits

  • Fewer in-store shopping trips 4
  • Increased online shopping 4, 5
  • Reduced overall spending
    • 75% of Canadians are spending less 6
    • Households are spending less on food (despite food prices rising)7
  • Increased demand for local food security 8, 9, 10
  • More retailers offering online shopping

Long term effects

It cannot be denied that the impact of COVID-19 has greatly changed the retail environment, the way that we access food, and our shopping behaviour.  Though it is still early on and difficult to predict what the long-term impacts will be, we can assume that the significant shift to online shopping will be here to stay.

The polarity of our hyper-local and -global reality.

We are more digitally connected to our friends, families, work colleagues, teachers, and students, than ever before. We have access to live webinars, concerts, yoga classes, and workshops. Though physically separated during the pandemic, we’ve never been more globally connected.

On the other hand, COVID-19 has intensified our sense of local community. We are spending more time at home and we mostly interact with people who live in our neighbourhood or those who work in the few stores that we frequent. Even as restrictions begin to ease, our movement is often still limited to our neighbourhoods and cities. Our physical reality is very much locally bound.

Why do we care about buying local?

All over the city, and the country, retailers and restaurants are closing their doors permanently11 and it’s important that we support the ones that have managed to remain open. Supporting local business has always been important. Purchasing from a local retailer or restaurant is an opportunity to support your local economy (in a big way) and to contribute to a vibrant and resilient community.

The Power of Local Purchasing

Economic Benefit 

Local businesses:

  • recirculate more revenue in the local economy
  • produce more jobs per square foot
  • produce more revenue per square foot
  • donate more to charity
  • Examples3
    • Local retailers donate 5% of the revenue to charity (vs. multinationals at 0.2%)
    • 63% of revenue from local retailers is recirculated to local economy (vs. multinationals at 14%)
    • Local restaurants make $739/sq. ft. (vs. multinationals at $199)

The impact of a dollar does not stop when it leaves your hand. It can create a wave of impact that, when spent locally, can amplify in effect throughout the community

Social Benefit

Local businesses:

  • are often more invested in a community and more dedicated to building and maintaining relationships with its customers
  • are important socials hubs that provide physical place around which community develops
  • can have increased transparency on the sourcing and impact of their products and services
  • can strongly influence the community in which they operate 12
    are owned and operated by individuals who live in and are invested in the community

Local businesses build community by creating greater trust and connectedness between consumers and producers.

Environmental benefit:

Local businesses:

  • are more likely to source locally made products, which can result in fewer emissions (reduced transportation)
  • have fewer emissions, due to smaller locations (less lighting and heating)
    are more likely to be in city centers, decreasing emissions (from transportation) and habitat loss
  • donate up to 24 times more (per dollar of revenue) to local charities than multinationals 3
  • often provide greater product and sourcing transparency and greater access to information

Local purchasing can decrease environmental impact and offer increased environmental transparency

Risks of increased online shopping

Emissions: Shopping online may increase carbon emissions. There’s no clear winner between online and in-store shopping, but it comes down transportation, the largest contributor for both. 13,14,15 In-store shopping can be more carbon-friendly if travel is done my walking, biking, public transit, or along routine driving routes.

Waste: Online shopping creates more waste due to packaging 16

Local Impact: Online shopping often means that an item is being purchased from outside your local economy and food system, which results in little to no beneficial impact for you (beyond the purchase itself) or your community.

How to shop locally during a pandemic

Understanding the primary challenge: options are limited  

With the changes in the retail environment, closures, and social distancing, we simply do not have the same access to local products as we did three months ago.

  • Local businesses have restricted hours, or have closed
  • Access to local options online may be limited
  • Information about sourcing information for online products and services may be less available
  • Restricting the number of stores that we shop at means that our access to local options may be reduced

Tips for buying local

  • Before heading to international online shopping platforms, give the internet a quick search for local retailers. Give their website a glance over or call them up to see if they’re still open and what style of shopping service they are providing.
  • If you are grocery shopping online and can’t see where an item is grown, choose items that are currently in season in your community. Don’t know what’s in season? Check out this BC guide
  • Plan ahead. Making a list and sticking to it, even before you shop online, makes it easier to focus on the specific products you’ve decided to purchase and helps to stick with a budget and any other of your priorities (such as local produce)
  • To restrict the number of stores you visit, rather than trying to purchase every item from one store, try visiting different local businesses each week, and plan ahead for what you will and won’t be able to get at each.

Tips for shopping online 

  1. Ask yourself some questions. Is this product available from a local store, that is selling online, or that I can pick up on my routine shopping trip? Can I walk or bike there?
  2. Slow it down. Choose standard shipping, even if faster options are free. Express deliveries result in more, emptier vehicles on the road and negate the efficiencies of optimized deliveries that online shopping can provide.
  3. Only click once. Consolidate your orders to reduce packaging and delivery waste.
  4. Avoid missed deliveries. Plan to be home when a package arrives, or to have items delivered to a neighbour’s home, or a centralized delivery hub
  5. Wait to go to the store to purchase items with high return rates – such as shoes.

Article Sources

1 Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (2020)
2 Smith and MacKinnon (2007)
3 LOCO BC (2019)
4 Agrifood Analytics Labs (2020)
5 Absolunet 2020
6 Payments Canada (2020)
7 Retailer Insider (2020) – Food Prices
8 The Tyee (2020)
9 Global News (2020)
10 Food Secure Canada (2020)
11 Retail Insider (2020)
12 Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (2013)
13 MIT (2013)
14 Hischier (2018)
15 Wiese, Toporowski, and Zielke (2012)
16 CBC (2018)

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