by Christina Bianco
In a market economy, the main goal is to achieve efficiency. Given that this statement is true, why do businesses ship products across state and international borders when the local community is capable of supplying the same or better goods and services? Even though some products are specific to a particular region, like oranges from Florida, for example, the economy would be more efficient if versatile products were produced near their targeted consumers. In this current economic meltdown, rather than bailing out banks and industries with failed processes, the government should provide the infrastructure for communities to be sustainable, both economically and environmentally, for the future. In addition, my dream for a sustainable future is one with checks and balances throughout and an emphasis on security. Hypothetically, though a distant reality, if the supply of petroleum abruptly stops tomorrow, supermarkets will not receive shipments of food, some homes will not have heat, and children will not be able to travel to school to receive an education. At a time when the country is already re-evaluating its economic system and future, decision-makers should weight sustainability as an important factor.
Rather than dwelling on the burdens that come with an economic recession, our country should be optimistic and grateful for the opportunity to retrofit our society for the future. At a time when municipalities and cities are suffering financially, local governments need policies to incentivize local private-private and private-public partnerships. For example, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is fortunate to have access to farms in a close radius for local farming of various crops. Already supermarkets like Wegmans and the Bethlehem Farmer’s Market in Campus Square sell local produce from nearby farms. Nevertheless, local food needs to become the mainstream for a sustainable future.
Beyond food, some cities promote using local painters, farmers, dentists, and lawyers, for example. Based in Ithaca, New York, Ithaca HOURS are used in place of national currency to protect the social and environmental effects of commerce. Not only does it promote local hiring, but also the buying and selling of local products and services. Economic and environmental benefits from Ithaca HOURS include more affordable locally-grown organic food and a smaller dependence on imports and transport fuels. According to Paul Glover, instead of using national currency which is backed by debt, Ithaca Hours are regarded as real money backed by real people, time, skills and tools. Ithaca is not the only city with Hours; other cities with local currencies in New York include Brooklyn and Oneonta, and Philadelphia has Equal Dollars with 864 members and 293 businesses participating. Thirty-six cities in the U.S. use local currencies in addition to six soon-to-be local currency programs, including one in West Philadelphia. To learn more visit the Ithaca HOURS website.
Local currencies are not the only way to promote buying local. Cities can offer tax incentives or give special recognition to businesses that support local goods and services. In addition, as acting members of society, individuals can buy local and organic when given the opportunity to show their consumer preferences and willingness to pay for products produced locally. Even though the national economy is currently in a state of distress, individual members can support their own communities by stimulating their local economies whenever possible.
Christina is a senior at Lehigh University [class of 2009], majoring in Environmental Studies. Next year, she will stay at Lehigh to complete a Master’s in Environmental Policy Design.
(Published in the 2009 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)