The Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts’ Sustainability Leadership Summit 2012 on June 7 opened my eyes to the multidimensional value of supporting local businesses. This value is especially high when communities develop business-to-business relationships.
Before attending the summit, I was already aware of how buying goods from local farms and supporting local tradespeople reduces the environmental impact of freight transportation. But, when I thought of supporting local businesses, I also thought of paying high prices for high-quality products. This perception may discourage some working class and middle class people from buying locally.
At the summit, I learned how much supporting sustainable, locally owned businesses can create a network of community resilience. Rather than being islands in the marketplace, businesses can form connections and support one another, building their local economies and creating jobs.
Andrew Meyer, co-founder of Vermont Soy and founder of Vermont Natural Coatings, described how businesses support each other in the small community of Hardwick, Vermont. Hardwick has attracted national attention because its network of local businesses generated over 100 jobs during the recession. A researcher concluded that the secret to Hardwick’s success was that local businesses supported one another. Business leaders socialized, collaborated, and shared resources. This resource sharing allowed the businesses to become more efficient and expand their operations.
Joe Grafton, Executive Director of Somerville Local First, described the massive growth of local business support networks in New England during the last few years. The number of networks has increased from three to 20. These groups are now scattered throughout New England. Many of them participate in awareness-raising campaigns such as Buy Local Week.
Tech Networks of Boston‘s CEO, Susan Labandibar, has created an infographic showing the advantages of supporting her locally owned business. Tech Networks spends 72 percent of its revenues within Massachusetts, produces 28 local jobs, invests in job skills training and tree planting, and uses a radically equitable pay scale for its employees.
Labandibar describes sustainable business practices as “generative” rather than “extractive.” Many speakers at the summit said that they want to see the role of business move toward a generative model. Sustainable businesses can partner with the communities they serve and share resources with the other businesses that are in their neighborhoods.
Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) has collected research on the benefits of encouraging locally owned business development. The advantages range from local economic stability to job creation and a stronger tax base. For more information, you can visit the websites of BALLE or the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.