Look out for the "local-wash" | Shoptalk | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Look out for the "local-wash"

As the buy local movement gains popularity, be ready for corporations using the language of the movement to market their products.

What does "local" really mean? It's a bit of an ill-defined term, so it would certainly help to try and offer some guidelines for what we're getting at when we urge you to spend a healthy portion of your dollar at local businesses.

We believe calling a business local means it is headquartered in Nova Scotia. Ideally it means a business that is owned by people who live here that also carries products that have been made here, though that can't always be the case. With food it's certainly of key importance that it was grown and produced locally, but when you're buying other products inevitably there will be items manufactured elsewhere and shipped into town. And choosing to buy a something at a local store rather than online is something we strongly endorse.

What's most important is how the decisions for the way the business is operated are made here. Even if the business is a large chain with regional ownership, if the people running the individual stores are able to make management decisions on how it's run, that we consider local.

What you are going to start seeing is "local-washing." Big business has twigged to the success of buying local, and have recognized that the movement now has some momentum. You're going to start to see the word "local" bandied about as part of sales initiatives. Some might say that buying local means spending your money in any store in the HRM, so long as you aren't ordering the product online. We don't agree. You may see the word local applied to anything manufactured in North America, or in food grown elsewhere in Canada. We don't agree.

Some might consider all the provinces in Atlantic Canada to be local, and there's certainly a strong argument to be made in favour of that. It's really your decision, but the best thing to insist on is transparency.

What you can do is ask your retailer about what you're buying. Where was it made (or grown)? How far did it travel to get to you? And you can keep a copy of this guide handy to remind yourself what businesses are, in fact, owned by people who live nearby.

Even small steps to shift your spending can have a major impact. Consider that some of the "big boys," in trying to get on board with customers' changing priorities, are in the position to make influential changes. Lara Ryan, who is vice-chair of the local chapter of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies reports that Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, is implementing a source-miles program.

"When you buy a product in Wal-mart, you can read how many miles it travelled," she says. "Which is kind of an interesting thing. They're doing that obviously because there's a market in it. It's their way of trying to attract that local business, and if they're trying to raise the bar then great. Frankly, we all spend enough money that if everybody carved out 10 or 20 percent for local, there'd still be enough money for the big guys."

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