Business

Let’s support local businesses instead of global monopolies, so that the money we spend builds stronger local economies rather than fattening the bottom lines of unaccountable corporations.

Highlighted Business Actions
Start a "Buy Local" campaign.
Expand Action
Start a "Buy Local" campaign.

Multiply the benefits of buying locally by creating a campaign to encourage local residents and visitors to support independently-owned shops and artisans.

Take action

  • Start a "buy local" campaign with Totally Locally's comprehensive Totally Locally Town Kit. The kit includes templates for posters, bag stuffers, badges, postcards, press releases and more, plus step-by-step advice for a successful campaign. It is UK-based, but applicable in any English-speaking country.
  • This factsheet produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance tells you How to Start a Buy Local Campaign, including tips on creating a local business alliance.
  • Improve existing campaigns with the American Independent Business Alliance's guide to best practices, Building "Buy Local" Campaigns that Shift Culture and Spending.
  • Find an existing 'buy local' initiative or group through the network members of the American Independent Business Alliance's list of Members (US) and Totally Locally's list of Totally Locally Towns (UK), and Go Local First (Australia).

Get inspired

  • Teenagers in the US state of South Dakota launched the Miner County Buy Local campaign, encouraging residents to spend 10% more at local businesses. In the following year, money spent locally increased by $15 million.
  • The Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign in the US state of Iowa has been around a while: it was launched by the University of Northern Iowa in 2003. It's also very successful: the dollar volume of purchases by retailers that partner with the program has grown by at least 10-fold since its start.

Start a "Buy Local" campaign.

Multiply the benefits of buying locally by creating a campaign to encourage local residents and visitors to support independently-owned shops and artisans.

Take action

  • Start a "buy local" campaign with Totally Locally's comprehensive Totally Locally Town Kit. The kit includes templates for posters, bag stuffers, badges, postcards, press releases and more, plus step-by-step advice for a successful campaign. It is UK-based, but applicable in any English-speaking country.
  • This factsheet produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance tells you How to Start a Buy Local Campaign, including tips on creating a local business alliance.
  • Improve existing campaigns with the American Independent Business Alliance's guide to best practices, Building "Buy Local" Campaigns that Shift Culture and Spending.
  • Find an existing 'buy local' initiative or group through the network members of the American Independent Business Alliance's list of Members (US) and Totally Locally's list of Totally Locally Towns (UK), and Go Local First (Australia).

Get inspired

  • Teenagers in the US state of South Dakota launched the Miner County Buy Local campaign, encouraging residents to spend 10% more at local businesses. In the following year, money spent locally increased by $15 million.
  • The Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign in the US state of Iowa has been around a while: it was launched by the University of Northern Iowa in 2003. It's also very successful: the dollar volume of purchases by retailers that partner with the program has grown by at least 10-fold since its start.
Join or start a bulk buying club.
Expand Action
Join or start a bulk buying club.

Reduce packaging waste and emissions from shipping by joining or starting a bulk buying club: a group of people who periodically purchase food and other supplies wholesale from farms, food producers, and other suppliers. To have the greatest positive impact, choose local producers whenever possible; otherwise try to build direct relationships with trusted fair-trade suppliers.

Take action

  • Start a buying club with Start a Buying Club's detailed guide.
  • Find bulk buying suppliers and other food coop resources from Sustain's Food Coops Map (UK).
  • Use the Fair World Project's guide The New International Guide to Fair Trade Labels to distinguish authentic, transformative fair trade labels that support small-scale, ecological producers from "fair-washed" corporate co-opted labels.

Get inspired

  • Melliodora near Melbourne, Australia, has been operating a home-based food coop once a week for 20 years, offering dry goods and a Community Supported Agriculture box from the founder's garage.
  • The 350,000+ members of the Seikatsu Club in Japan order bulk supplies in groups of 8-10 households arranged into autonomous local branches. Their collective demand has established more than 600 local cooperative suppliers and catalyzed a movement for local, chemical-free food throughout the country.

Join or start a bulk buying club.

Reduce packaging waste and emissions from shipping by joining or starting a bulk buying club: a group of people who periodically purchase food and other supplies wholesale from farms, food producers, and other suppliers. To have the greatest positive impact, choose local producers whenever possible; otherwise try to build direct relationships with trusted fair-trade suppliers.

Take action

  • Start a buying club with Start a Buying Club's detailed guide.
  • Find bulk buying suppliers and other food coop resources from Sustain's Food Coops Map (UK).
  • Use the Fair World Project's guide The New International Guide to Fair Trade Labels to distinguish authentic, transformative fair trade labels that support small-scale, ecological producers from "fair-washed" corporate co-opted labels.

Get inspired

  • Melliodora near Melbourne, Australia, has been operating a home-based food coop once a week for 20 years, offering dry goods and a Community Supported Agriculture box from the founder's garage.
  • The 350,000+ members of the Seikatsu Club in Japan order bulk supplies in groups of 8-10 households arranged into autonomous local branches. Their collective demand has established more than 600 local cooperative suppliers and catalyzed a movement for local, chemical-free food throughout the country.
Start a local business to meet basic needs.
Expand Action
Start a local business to meet basic needs.

There is a desperate need today for livelihoods that provide a sense of purpose and positive contribution, and that build up and sustain local economies and environments.

Take action

  • Transition from a 'deadlihood' to an 'alivelihood' with the help of the article 52 Alivehoods by Manish Jain of Shikshantar and Swaraj University, which includes a list of eco-careers for resilient local economies.
  • Explore the range of skills that will take center stage in a degrowth economy with Upskilling for a Post-Growth Future Together by Donnie Maclurcan of the Post-Growth Institute.
  • Assess how the skills you already have (or want to acquire) can create value for your community, and consider growing these skills into a livelihood or business.
  • Teaching others what you know is a way to pass on these skills and keep them alive in your community.

Get inspired

  • Kerry McCurdy in New Zealand turned a passion for bee-keeping into a thriving business, first as Backyard Honeybees and now as Beezthingz. Among other services, Beezthingz links independent beekeepers with farmers in need of pollinators.
  • Chris Holmgren in the US expanded his woodworking business, Seneca Creek Joinery, into a community-scale production facility that handles all aspects of wood processing, from dead tree removal to finished furniture. He works with the city government and local tree removal companies to ensure that no local wood goes to waste.

Start a local business to meet basic needs.

There is a desperate need today for livelihoods that provide a sense of purpose and positive contribution, and that build up and sustain local economies and environments.

Take action

  • Transition from a 'deadlihood' to an 'alivelihood' with the help of the article 52 Alivehoods by Manish Jain of Shikshantar and Swaraj University, which includes a list of eco-careers for resilient local economies.
  • Explore the range of skills that will take center stage in a degrowth economy with Upskilling for a Post-Growth Future Together by Donnie Maclurcan of the Post-Growth Institute.
  • Assess how the skills you already have (or want to acquire) can create value for your community, and consider growing these skills into a livelihood or business.
  • Teaching others what you know is a way to pass on these skills and keep them alive in your community.

Get inspired

  • Kerry McCurdy in New Zealand turned a passion for bee-keeping into a thriving business, first as Backyard Honeybees and now as Beezthingz. Among other services, Beezthingz links independent beekeepers with farmers in need of pollinators.
  • Chris Holmgren in the US expanded his woodworking business, Seneca Creek Joinery, into a community-scale production facility that handles all aspects of wood processing, from dead tree removal to finished furniture. He works with the city government and local tree removal companies to ensure that no local wood goes to waste.
Policy action: Shift subsidies from global to local.
Expand Action
Policy action: Shift subsidies from global to local.

Subsidies – government expenditures of public money in support of particular industries or businesses – play a major role in shaping our world, economically, politically and environmentally. Unfortunately, the vast majority of subsidies today serve to augment corporate power while undermining local economies, homogenizing cultures, and degrading the environment. Shifting the current subsidy regime – giving support to the small and local instead of the large and global – would go a long way towards solving our multiple crises.

Take action

Contact your political representatives, write opinion pieces and letters-to-the-editor, spread the word on social media, and talk to your friends and neighbors about the need to shift the subsidies that now support global corporations, so that they instead support place-based businesses, family farmers, and local communities.
Here are some examples of subsidies that need to be shifted:

  • In the USA and Europe especially, agricultural subsidies go to the largest farms growing crops for export, while small producers growing for local markets get little or nothing. According to a report by the Food and Land Use Coalition, subsidies amounting to $1 million per minute globally support agribusiness practices that are destructive of the climate, wildlife and the environment. A UN report concludes that 90% of global farm subsidies damage people and planet.
  • In most countries, energy and technology are subsidized, while human labor is heavily taxed. The result is that robots and high technology are destroying jobs, and we use ever more energy and emit ever more greenhouse gases.
  • Even with the climate emergency worsening, fossil fuel companies are still being subsidized at the rate of $5 trillion per year, 6.5% of global GDP. Learn more and get involved in stopping fossil fuel subsidies with the campaign series Stop Funding Fossils by Oil Change International.
  • To see how the US government subsidizes fossil fuels, download this factsheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). And sign Friends of the Earth's petition Stop Bailing Out Big Oil to put a end to those US fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Most infrastructure funding represents a hidden subsidy to large export-oriented businesses, which require globe-spanning transport and communications infrastructures. Ports and shipping terminals, airports, rail yards and multi-lane highways all provide huge benefits to global corporations, but are of much less use to local producers and marketers.
  • Publicly-funded research and development programs also selectively benefit huge corporations. For example, taxpayer money funded much of the research into biotechnology, which has resulted in billions of dollars in profits for pharmaceutical companies and GMO seed corporations. Shifting that funding to the needs of community-based health centers and small farmers would be hugely beneficial.
  • City and regional governments also heavily subsidize corporations, tilting the playing field against smaller more place-based businesses. To see how much Wal-Mart has received from state and local governments in the US, check out the interactive map produced by Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch. Or join the effort of Good Jobs First to oppose further subsidies for Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world.
  • US citizens may be surprised (and disappointed) when they discover where their tax dollars are going. Read the article Biggest corporate subsidies of the last 20 years to see how much was given to the fossil fuel, automotive and biotech industries, and to corporations like Tesla, Amazon, Intel, IBM and billionaire real estate developers.
  • Learn more about how government tax incentives are being used across the US to subsidize the biggest corporations, and policy efforts to end that practice with this resource – ‘Banning Public Subsidies for Big Retailers’ – from the Institute for Local.
  • For local elected officials, learn how to redirect public subsidies away from big corporations and towards small, local businesses in this guide from the Institute for Local Self Reliance (scroll down to 'How States and Cities Can Fight Back').

Get inspired

  • When internet behemoth Amazon announced that it would be looking for sites for its second US headquarters, cities and states around the country tried to outdo one another in offering the biggest tax breaks and fattest subsidies. The company eventually settled on two sites, including one in Queens, New York. But outraged Queens residents and even some political leaders protested against the proposed $3 billion handout to Amazon, as well as the impact on housing in the densely populated area. Eventually, Amazon withdrew its offer – a major victory for city residents and taxpayers. Read more about this successful struggle in this article in The Atlantic magazine.

Policy action: Shift subsidies from global to local.

Subsidies – government expenditures of public money in support of particular industries or businesses – play a major role in shaping our world, economically, politically and environmentally. Unfortunately, the vast majority of subsidies today serve to augment corporate power while undermining local economies, homogenizing cultures, and degrading the environment. Shifting the current subsidy regime – giving support to the small and local instead of the large and global – would go a long way towards solving our multiple crises.

Take action

Contact your political representatives, write opinion pieces and letters-to-the-editor, spread the word on social media, and talk to your friends and neighbors about the need to shift the subsidies that now support global corporations, so that they instead support place-based businesses, family farmers, and local communities.
Here are some examples of subsidies that need to be shifted:

  • In the USA and Europe especially, agricultural subsidies go to the largest farms growing crops for export, while small producers growing for local markets get little or nothing. According to a report by the Food and Land Use Coalition, subsidies amounting to $1 million per minute globally support agribusiness practices that are destructive of the climate, wildlife and the environment. A UN report concludes that 90% of global farm subsidies damage people and planet.
  • In most countries, energy and technology are subsidized, while human labor is heavily taxed. The result is that robots and high technology are destroying jobs, and we use ever more energy and emit ever more greenhouse gases.
  • Even with the climate emergency worsening, fossil fuel companies are still being subsidized at the rate of $5 trillion per year, 6.5% of global GDP. Learn more and get involved in stopping fossil fuel subsidies with the campaign series Stop Funding Fossils by Oil Change International.
  • To see how the US government subsidizes fossil fuels, download this factsheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). And sign Friends of the Earth's petition Stop Bailing Out Big Oil to put a end to those US fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Most infrastructure funding represents a hidden subsidy to large export-oriented businesses, which require globe-spanning transport and communications infrastructures. Ports and shipping terminals, airports, rail yards and multi-lane highways all provide huge benefits to global corporations, but are of much less use to local producers and marketers.
  • Publicly-funded research and development programs also selectively benefit huge corporations. For example, taxpayer money funded much of the research into biotechnology, which has resulted in billions of dollars in profits for pharmaceutical companies and GMO seed corporations. Shifting that funding to the needs of community-based health centers and small farmers would be hugely beneficial.
  • City and regional governments also heavily subsidize corporations, tilting the playing field against smaller more place-based businesses. To see how much Wal-Mart has received from state and local governments in the US, check out the interactive map produced by Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch. Or join the effort of Good Jobs First to oppose further subsidies for Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world.
  • US citizens may be surprised (and disappointed) when they discover where their tax dollars are going. Read the article Biggest corporate subsidies of the last 20 years to see how much was given to the fossil fuel, automotive and biotech industries, and to corporations like Tesla, Amazon, Intel, IBM and billionaire real estate developers.
  • Learn more about how government tax incentives are being used across the US to subsidize the biggest corporations, and policy efforts to end that practice with this resource – ‘Banning Public Subsidies for Big Retailers’ – from the Institute for Local.
  • For local elected officials, learn how to redirect public subsidies away from big corporations and towards small, local businesses in this guide from the Institute for Local Self Reliance (scroll down to 'How States and Cities Can Fight Back').

Get inspired

  • When internet behemoth Amazon announced that it would be looking for sites for its second US headquarters, cities and states around the country tried to outdo one another in offering the biggest tax breaks and fattest subsidies. The company eventually settled on two sites, including one in Queens, New York. But outraged Queens residents and even some political leaders protested against the proposed $3 billion handout to Amazon, as well as the impact on housing in the densely populated area. Eventually, Amazon withdrew its offer – a major victory for city residents and taxpayers. Read more about this successful struggle in this article in The Atlantic magazine.
The Big Picture

Most people understand the importance of small, local businesses – if not as a general rule, then at least for their own community. But what do we mean by “small” and “local”? The answer may seem self-evident: examples come to mind of independent bookstores, family-run restaurants, or even local credit unions. But if we dig a little deeper, defining small and local becomes more difficult – providing global corporations an opportunity to define these terms in ways that benefit them.

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For example, it may surprise you to learn that the definition of “small” used by the US Small Business Administration (SBA) is so broad it includes firms with up to 1,500 employees and average annual revenues of $39.5 million. [1]

If that’s not what you think of as “small”, defining “local” can be even trickier. Take, for example, an owner-operated shop selling fruits and vegetables – surely a small business. But if the produce comes from dozens of different countries, is grown on industrial-scale farms, and is delivered by large corporate wholesalers over international transport networks, is it really “local”, or is it just a tiny piece of a gigantic global-scale trading system?

Truly small, truly local businesses are becoming increasingly rare, especially in the industrialized world. Examples might include family farmers selling directly to their customers, or craftsmen and artisans using nearby resources to produce wares for surrounding communities. One key feature of such enterprises is that the distance between producer and consumer is fairly short – a good rule of thumb for 'local'. For many decades, however, government policies have pushed that distance to widen dramatically, in part by subsidizing the infrastructure needed for global trade. Government agencies, meanwhile, promote international trade in other ways: the US Small Business Administration, for instance, sponsors programs to induce small firms to "travel along the exciting and profitable road to overseas markets." [2]  

Why are truly small and local businesses important? 



One reason is that they tend to rely more on human labor and less on energy and technology than large global businesses. That reliance on human labor means small businesses create far more jobs. Independent retailers, for example, employ 57 people for every $10 million in sales, while the online behemoth Amazon employs just 23 for the same amount of sales. [3] That’s why Amazon has destroyed nearly 150,000 more jobs in the US than it has created. [4] Similarly, a UK study showed that every new supermarket that opens in that country leads to a net loss of 276 jobs. [5] 

Another reason locally-owned businesses are important involves accountability. When people purchase through global supply chains, the distances between production and consumption are so wide that it is all but impossible to make ethical choices. A fish served in a California restaurant may have been caught illegally on a Thai fishing vessel manned by slaves. A t-shirt bought in Germany may have been sewn in a Bangladeshi sweatshop, where workers labored in unsafe conditions for starvation wages. When needs are met via local businesses, on the other hand, customers know far more about the impacts on both workers and the environment – leaving those businesses much more accountable. 

Local businesses, unlike their global counterparts, also pay their fair share of taxes. Global businesses can minimize taxation because they are not tied to any particular place, and can choose to call "home" whatever country offers the lowest taxes and biggest subsidies. Because they are so adept at avoiding taxation, the rest of us end up paying more.

A final reason to strengthen local businesses is that doing so whittles down the power of global giants over every aspect of our lives. Many corporations today have annual revenues larger than the GDPs of entire countries, giving them enormous resources to influence government policy. According to Stacy Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Amazon alone employs more lobbyists in the US than there are members of the US Senate. She concludes that giant tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook “have created a form of private government – autocratic regimes that are tightening their control over our main arteries of commerce and information.” [6] Needless to say, other giant corporations, from fossil fuel companies to giant agribusinesses, exert similar control over other aspects of public life. 


Clearly, a fundamental change in direction is needed. The goal is not to shrink the producer-consumer distance to some arbitrarily-defined number of miles, nor to eliminate all trade. Instead, our money and our policies must favor the small producer and marketer instead of the corporate giant, and local economies rather than global. 

References

[1] “Table of Small Business Size Standards”, US Small Business Administration, August 19, 2019. https://www.sba.gov/document/support--table-size-standards

[2] Breaking into the Trade Game: A Small Business Guide to Exporting (Washington, DC: Small Business Administration, 1997), p. i.

[3] Ingrid Lunden, “Amazon’s share of the US e-commerce market is now 49%, or 5% of all retail spend,” Tech Crunch, July 2018; Felix Richter, “Amazon’s Workforce is More than Half a Million Strong,” Statista, November 1, 2018; Stacy Mitchell, “The Truth about Amazon and Job Creation,” Institute for Local Self-Reliance, July 29, 2013.

[4] Stacy Mitchell and Olivia LaVecchia, “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities”, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, November, 2016. https://ilsr.org/amazon-stranglehold/ 

[5] “How to... Oppose a Supermarket Planning Application,” Friends of the Earth UK, September 2005.

[6] Stacy Mitchell, “Amazon Is a Private Government. Congress Needs to Step Up,” The Atlantic, Aug. 10, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/americans-can-barely-imagine-congress-works/615091/