Have you heard of BALLE? The Business Alliance for Local Living Communities is an international NonProfit that promotes the ‘triple bottom line’ concept that local businesses can simultaneously be profitable and foster social and environmental consciousness. It is catalysing grassroots communities right across North America. Local First marketing campaigns are a critical piece of the sustainable community economic development strategy of BALLE.

PWF readers have in the past few months been writing in about instances of big business effectively ‘sucking the lifeblood’ out of small business and threatening the health of communities. You have to ask, do we – as part of local, living communities – want to be ‘homogenised’? Is sustainable living attainable or just a dream?

WHY DO we buy salad greens sealed in a bag from the supermarket – 150g cost $3.99…..which is around $24 per kilo? At my local independant retailer loose greens cost between $7.99 and $11.99 per kilo and a gourmet lettuce weighing 200g costs $1.99!

Bev Roberts of Noosa says “It’s a philosophical thing… we’re losing so many of our small traders. Things are becoming homogenised. Coles and Woolies are banking on our laziness and our time limits to brainwash us into their type of shopping.” Bev had a bad experience with a major supermarket’s house brand packaged meal and she now shops at an independent retailer.

Local, living communities & ‘sustainability’
There is SO-O-O much stuff on the web on ‘sustainability’ – people, co-ops, and organisations working collaboratively – but possibly in ‘silos’ and relatively SMALL – while BIG business and BIG government tend to roll on regardless……market power, financial power…..lip service to sustainable development?

Buying at the Coles/Woolies ‘duopoly’ in Oz, or Wal-Mart in the US may be a little cheaper and, it is argued, ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) but American attorney and economist Michael Shuman in The Small-Mart Revolution shows exactly why ‘locally owned, import substituting businesses’ (LOIS) are far more beneficial to their communities than massive chains like Wal-Mart. Bigger is not better!! Crunch the numbers, he says, and you’ll find that locally owned businesses turn out to be much more reliable generators of:

  • good jobs;
  • economic growth;
  • tax dollars;
  • community wealth;
  • charitable contributions;
  • social stability;
  • political participation.

Unlike their global competitors, Michael says, in America these small businesses operate without massive tax breaks and subsidies that often put local economies in a permanent hole. Plus, contrary to popular belief, local businesses are competitive with the multinationals, and gaining ground every day. In ‘The Small-Mart Revolution’ Michael shows how consumers, investors, and policymakers can support their own communities by ‘going local’ – a robust alternative to ‘go-go’ globalization, one that nurtures the creative capacities of local businesses and enables communities everywhere to thrive.

There is a LOIS alternative to the TINA ‘reign of terror’, says Michael Shuman.

Pertinent info & comments….

In The Sydney Morning Herald this week
the Urban Affairs reporter writes that ‘Sole Traders lose tread on Main Street’. Unrestricted trading hours have allowed Sydney’s large shopping centres to choke the life out of surrounding retail strips, a two-decade-long study of shopping trends has found.

Back in 2002 the National Association of Retail Grocers warned “In the grocery retail market place Coles and Woolies now own close to 80 per cent of the national package grocery market which is the highest level of market dominance in the developed world”. According to ABARE, this significant market share indicates that the retail food industry in Australia operates as a duopoly.

Australian food and liquor retailing accounts for 46 percent of Australia’s 193.3 billion dollar retailing industry. Of the 88.7 billion dollars spent at food and liquor retailers, 62 percent was spent in supermarkets and grocery stores, 13 percent in cafes and restaurants, 10 percent in takeaway food outlets and 6 percent in liquor retailers.

Grocery prices have jumped twice the cost of living in a year . . . and consumers have been warned worse is to come, reports The Courier Mail, 3 January, 07.
Comment from Glen Doolan of Hong Kong: It’s a sad state of affairs when I can walk into a supermarket in Hong Kong, and buy Vegemite and Capilano honey cheaper than what it costs at Coles in Brisbane. The reason for this is simple, Australians are suckers, and the HK Chinese are the most savy consumers on the planet. The supermarkets know they can rip you off, because you put up with it. I would suggest giving it to the manager with both barrels, and then walking next door to the fruit shop.

Both Coles and Woolies have been fined ($4 million and $7 million) – by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) – for unfair, restrictive trade practices as rivals have applied for liquor licences .

An example of increasing power of the two major retailers can be seen in the expanding range of generic house brand products stocked on their shelves. Coles has announced plans to increase the proportion of house brands on its shelves from 13 percent to 30 percent by late 2007.

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Do we in OZ
need to tap into the BALLE network? Apart from LETS Systems there doesn’t seem to be anything quite like BALLE here. Does anyone know differently?

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Some more areas of interest…

In the UK Demos – A Think Tank: Building Everyday Democracy. Without more direct citizen participation, the legitimacy of our political institutions will continue to decline. Why we get the politicians we deserve…..

In the US GEO Grassroots Economic Organising. Co-Director Ethan Miller writes about Solidarity Economics:Strategies for Building New Economies From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out. There are many alternatives to corporate-driven capitalism. Ethan says thousands of grassroots initiatives throughout the world are working to build a “solidarity economy” based on shared values of democratic empowerment and participation, broad social ownership and equity, ecological sustainability and community well-being. Linked together, these projects have the potential to be amplified into a significant force for social and economic transformation.

The Data Commons Project:
Building a collaborative directory of the cooperative economy of North America.

‘Independence from corporate global economy’ published in GreenBiz

‘Making a Profit and a Difference’ published in the New York Times Business Section, October 5, 2006.

Finally – a success story
When architect and urban redeveloper Guy Bazzani moved from Northern California to Grand Rapids, Michigan, more than a decade ago, he didn’t expect his ideas about socially responsible, environmentally healthy business to be embraced right away.

His company Bazzani Associates specialises in restoring old buildings using techniques such as green roofs which are covered with plants, storm water management systems and environmentally friendly building materials. He says “We found that we can build green buildings that utilize 40 – 50% less energy at the same price as traditional buildings.”

The ‘green business’ took off. It is a ‘first choice’ – a locally owned business that can produce at value. Guy says “If this Rust Belt city of 280,000 is any barometer, small, local businesses are inclined to embrace social responsibility and will promote environmental health. In the three years since he founded a Local First organisation, more than 250 independent businesses in Grand Rapids have come on board. This is one of 35 similar business networks around the US and Canada that have sprung out of BALLE, whose networks, in major metropolitan areas and smaller cities, represent more than 11,000 local, independent businesses.

It seems the face-to-face connection that customers experience by shopping locally is very important. In an increasingly technological world, people ‘yearn’ for this connection because they feel they are losing the cultural, spiritual and human element of their lives.


A few hiccups in urban areas

Some urban entrepreneurs like Glynn Lloyd, chief executive of City Fresh Foods in the Dorchester section of Boston, have found the triple-bottom-line quest tougher going. In inner-city neighbourhoods, he says, it is difficult for local businesses to get traction. Shoppers, long ignored by developers and big national chains, are pleased to see Home Depot and Starbucks come to the area.

I have decided I am going to walk 2 minutes down the arcade from ‘my’ supermarket to the greengrocer and at least check out his quality and his prices……what about you?

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