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While the rise of globalization has enabled us to get to know our vast world and introduced us to many different cultures, it has also changed the way we consume, significantly increasing our consumption of foreign goods. Let’s take a closer look at the environmental and economic impacts of this practice and the benefits of switching to local buying.
By Stéphanie Houle
Purchasing international goods might seem tempting. The product offering is so broad – almost endless – and prices are often lower, even with customs costs taken into account.
However, the impacts of foreign consumption on the environment and the economy are much less attractive, calling into question our buying habits as consumers. It has been shown that some 66% of consumers seeking lower prices and buying products from abroad would be willing to reconsider their purchases if retailers shared more details about the environmental impact of overseas shipping.
Regarding environmental impact, the numbers speak for themselves, particularly when we learn that the food we eat travels an average of 2,600 km in North America before making it to our plate.
The transport of food and goods over long distances produces pollution and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. It also generates other collateral damage and irritants, such as noise, traffic and smog formation, which can cause breathing difficulties, among other things.
Plus, to reach us, a product has travelled across other countries or oceans and required additional packaging to protect it throughout its journey.
Then, if we’re unsatisfied with the product, additional transportation and packaging is needed to return it.
From an economic standpoint, buying products from overseas promotes employment abroad and does not contribute to the employment of local people. It also helps circulate money outside of our country, which means the profits are not necessarily reinvested in Canada if the business is based elsewhere in the world.
What then is the best way to mitigate these impacts?
In Canada, local buying is made easier by our “Product of Canada” or “Made in Canada” labels, meaning respectively that the products must contain 98% of Canadian ingredients or materials, or a minimum threshold of 51% in addition to stating that the product contains imported materials. Quebec lacks clear definitions in this regard.
One thing is certain – most Quebec consumers agree that changes in consumption behaviour must be led by businesses and brands. And that applies to eco-friendly, socially-responsible or ethical consumption.
Local buying, however, also depends on the goodwill of the population, and there are concrete benefits in doing so.
A research study conducted by LOCO, in British Columbia, found that for every $100 spent locally, $63 is recirculated in the community, generating 4.6 times more positive economic impact than money spent in non-local businesses. Also, local retailers make a smaller margin on products sold, and a large part of their profits go toward paying wages, rent, electricity and other related costs that contribute to the local economy.
Fortunately, the growing desire to consume in a more mindful manner – such as opting for “locavorism” or eco-friendly fashion [Cat1] – combined with rising transportation costs is causing a decrease in products purchased abroad and shorter distribution channels. The outcome? Less greenhouse gas will be released through transportation, and related costs will also be reduced if travel distances are shortened.
Buying local allows us to can gain better knowledge of how products are made (ingredients, components, origin, manufacturing processes, etc.) and what’s behind our purchases. This is especially true when visiting public markets, nearby stores and local farms, where we can have direct contact with the producer, manufacturer or artisan and ask questions.
While we’re making progress – 60% of people today frequently buy local versus 55% in 2009 – there’s still room for improvement.
Here are some tips on buying local and reducing your purchases of foreign products:
Then there’s Eluo, a skin care brand based in Calgary, Alberta. Its mission is to modernize our daily face care ritual by focusing on the benefits of clay and botanicals: the multitasking powder blends hydrate, exfoliate and soothe our precious skin, leaving it refreshed and naturally beautiful.
*1 Selon une étude publiée par la firme inRiver, réalisée en 2019.
*2 Selon la Commission sur l’avenir de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire québécois, réalisée en 2008.
*3, 4, 5 Selon le Baromètre de la consommation responsable édition 2019, une étude produite par l’Observatoire de la consommation responsable de l’ESG UQAM, publiée en 2019.