Monday, December 08, 2008

Be the change you want to see

These arrived last week. Aren't they great? When we were doing the research into our plastic bags, we decided to go ahead and have some cotton reusable bags produced as well. After looking at various options, we went with a company (B Smith Packaging) that has strong ties with other traders in Abingdon, and also has strong links with a number of companies in India which produce organic cotton bags. These bags are the result: Not only are they made of organic cotton, they are (ultimately) made by a family-run company in India that is a member of Ethical Junction - a ten-year old network of businesses run along ethical principles globally. They were shipped by boat. The artwork was created for us exclusively by local children's author and illustrator David Melling. The bags are £4.95 - or free if you purchase over £50 of anything in the shop. Doing this sort of thing is what we went into business for. It's very easy in the current frenzied climate of economic disaster headlines, to feel like sticking your head in the sand, or heading for the hills. Instead, it's time to start thinking about the true meaning of the phrase "think global, act local". As individuals, consumers, businesses we have an incredible opportunity to make a disproportionately huge impact on our local environment; not just 'nature', but our workplaces, communities, schools and neighbourhoods. I've blogged before about choosing to spend money with businesses who nourish supply chains, but on Friday we got involved in the launch of a new FSB campaign called "Keep Trade Local".

I'm not a big lover of campaigns it must be said, and I don't buy into the 'use us or lose us' arguments of some businesses. We as local traders have to offer something special with our shops to meet consumers halfway, and - in my experience - they will pay a premium in return. But the FSB campaign has some startling statistics - the main one being that 5% of turnover for a supermarket makes its way into the local community, but this rises to 50% when spent with small, local businesses. I suspect that online shopping falls to a fraction of 1% - and of course profits are repatriated far away - often overseas. I'm not suggesting that everyone stops buying from supermarkets and online, but what it does mean - I think - is that if someone - faced with apparent powerlessness in the face of global economic and environmental problems, injustice in many parts of the world - wants to get active and make a difference, you can start engaging with local businesses - and know that you are helping strengthen the local economy. My intuition is that this brings multiple rewards, financial, mental, spiritual. Malcolm Gladwell thinks to. And it may be the catalyst to start the creation of a new type of high street rising from the ashes of the current one. So this week, why not consider a purchase you *would* have made online or in the supermarket, or at a hellish, crowded, pre-Christmas, out-of-town development. Now choose to pay an ethical premium, and give yourself your own feelgood factor by making a difference to a local business. Don't choose one at random, but ask around and choose one that is adding value, and has word-of-mouth recommendations. You want to be getting something special in return for your purchase - and you'll know that their business is making a big difference to the local economy. As the man said, "Be The Change You Want To See".