Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Location, Location, Location

The one thing you can always count on in green is that local is good - mostly.

Environmentally, local materials work best. If the product you're looking for comes from local raw materials, you can be pretty certain that it is compatible with the local environment. For example, stone quarried on site makes for a nice aesthetic for a designed landscape feature -colors and textures are inherently compatible with natural surroundings.

Local requires less energy, and here most likely we're talking about oil, moving items from there to here. Less expended energy in transportation is a fundamental principle of sustainability.

Close-to-home manufacturing, harvesting, processing, designing, servicing, etc. stimulates the local economy. We are all connected in some way in this world, but we are very connected to our local environment. Buying local gives us the opportunity to support our neighbors who in turn support us. And, a wonderful by-product of local commerce is that it raises the level of cultural interaction by putting us in constant contact with those who live around us. A product from China may be cheaper to by in the short run, but the marginal savings at the cash register come at the cost of the many synergies created by buying local.

Growing evidence indicates that significant health benefits come from eating locally grown food. There's even a term for it - "locavore" - introduced by Jessica Prentice to describe the practice of eating a diet consisting of food grown within a 100 mile radius of where you live. You can visit her website dedicated to local cooking and eating at wisefoodways.com.

A common thread in the green ethic is that there are almost always exceptions to everything. There will always be an odd case here and there where on influence outweighs another. Its good to keep looking at the issue from all angles.

If local options demand a disproportionate amount of energy, uses up unique natural resources that society has a stake in preserving, or creates an imbalance in some way, it may indeed be more green to look farther away. For example, if a local processing plant is old and carbon heavy, it may be wise to look for an item assembled by a green facility 300 miles away. The cleaner manufacturing process may outweigh the cost of petroleum to get it from there to here.

It's best that we get used to these complexities. Green is not "one size fits all." There's no silver bullet. But there are infinite opportunities.

So remember, it's location, location, and sometimes - location.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing I've always wondered about is what will happen to the more egregious unsustainable exurbs when the gallon of gas exceeds $5? I picture some interesting ghost town scenarios a la the Dakota prairie.