The Mutual Benefits of Sustainable Shopping

By Maureena Thompson, staff editor The holiday shopping season is upon us, and with it the lingering question of where to find those elusive, perfectly-tailored, and at least reasonably affordable gifts. For those wishing to buy both unique and sustainable gifts here in the Triangle, opportunities abound. Fair trade stores such as 10,000 Villages and the eco-friendly Twig, both in Chapel Hill, offer a number of environmentally sustainable products. In Durham, a group of local businesses, including the eclectic One World Market, belong to the cleverly named website:, which encourages residents to “Shop Independent Durham.” By supporting local businesses, the website claims, $45 of every $100 spent stays local, as opposed to shopping at a chain store, where only $13 of every $100 spent remains in the local economy. But is shopping "locally" really a sustainable practice year-round?

As much as I enjoy these progressive shops, their prices can be significantly higher than those of so-called big box stores. While I may be willing to splurge for a one-of-a-kind gift, I sometimes find it hard to justify purchasing similar items for my own daily use. As a member of this community, though, are the social benefits I will share in the long run worth the personal cost I may forfeit up front?

The answer, I think, lies not only in what kind of sustainable products I would like to buy, but also in the type of community I wish to further. So I might not be able to shop independent for all of my presents. But I think at least being more conscious of where my dollars will end up is a step forward in the sustainable movement – both in terms of environmental sustainability and the sustainability of the local economy. Besides, many of the specialty and artisanal wares offered by local businesses would be hard to come across in a Target aisle. And even if in the end it means buying slightly less, I believe the benefits I (and my neighbors) will reap will be more.

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