Posts Tagged ‘economic development’

A Toast to Buying Local

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President in the Corporate Practice, Washington, D.C

A visit to my uncle’s small farm in Massachusetts a few weeks ago gave me a new frame of reference on the “buy local” movement, and how it connects to corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability. It is a fascinating, multi-dimensional subject that I hope to read and write about much more on Hill & Knowlton’s ResponsAbilty blog in the future.

But it was President Obama’s much hyped “Beer Summit” (a term I know that the White House dislikes, but which has not dissuaded the media from using) that got me thinking about how the products we choose send symbolic messages about consumption and responsibility, and the extent to which product selection actually impacts the environment and the economy.

The buy local debate focuses on two primary dimensions of benefits – strengthening the local economy (by keeping dollars circulating in your region, promoting economic growth and development, jobs, taxes, etc., as well as creating a greater sense of community) and protecting the environment (since local goods require less transport, reducing related emissions and packaging materials). When discussing food in particular (as opposed to goods and services generally), there are a few other benefits that come into play, including fresher foods requiring less use of preservatives and other chemicals, supporting small businesses (especially farms), promoting fair trade, and preserving natural and green spaces (namely by keeping family farms profitable and thus preventing their sale and development).

Getting back to the beer summit, in Washington’s sometimes fervent climate of “buy American”, it’s not surprising that criticism of the White House by some parties here was focused on buying American beer, not buying local beer. If the latter were of top concern to those involved, then I would have heartily recommended a few bottles of Dominion Lager, a product of the Ashburn, Virginia based Old Dominion Brewing Co., and a personal favorite.

The buy American debate raises a whole host of different issues connected to corporate responsibility. For example, when is a company that is headquartered in the U.S., but which maintains a global manufacturing and operational footprint, an American company? When do companies and their products become “global” brands? How “Japanese” is a Japanese car made in Alabama? What about an Irish beer brewed “under license” in Canada? Good questions for another time.

But putting national or local economic considerations aside, would it be more environmentally responsible to consume an imported beer from a brewery with a best-in-class sustainability program, rather than buy locally from one without?

In the final equation, the most responsible and sustainable choice is probably a carefully considered balance between these two sometimes complementary, sometimes competing dimensions.