Throughout April, we at Cambridge Local First focus on the small, the large and the unexpected strategies our business members are using to make their corner of the world a little more eco-friendly. Fortunately for all of us that support local business, the very fact that a business is independent means that it is much more likely to go easy on our environment. Why? Well, it comes down to margins and mojo.
Consider this—national and multinational companies build profit margins by focusing on the big impacts and not sweating the small stuff. A chain store keeps its costs down by ordering the same check-out counters, installing the same shelving units, and using the same suppliers for every location. It’s a very effective use of scale and one that makes a few sacrifices worthwhile. So, if you have to ship a little further to get the supplies or use your materials less efficiently at a location, the savings makes up for the cost. The same rubric holds true for a national tax preparation firm or a hotel chain. No matter how many times a CEO re-draws the corporate operations, waste is baked into big business strategy.
But the waste-making strategies that make financial sense for a national chain are dangerous for an independent business. With no national corporate safety net, your independent shop owner keeps his or her eye on every dollar, every order, and every material that comes through the door. For an independent business owner, waste isn’t just a part of doing business; it’s an expense he or she can’t afford.
But there is an even bigger incentive for an independent business to ease its impact on the environment—let’s call it mojo. All business is subject to the chaos of marketplaces; the strange trends and swings that make today’s ferociously successful business strategy into tomorrow’s dud. But when you don’t have a national brand strategy and a seven-figure revenue stream to back you up, you put extra care into the relationships that sustain you when the unpredictable (predictably) smacks you in the profit margins.
Business mojo is that peculiar magic that comes out of the strong, long-term relationships you create. You nurture mojo by paying a little more to work with the local supplier you can count on. You feed it by passing on the cheaper product that will be next year’s landfill to sell your customers something that will last. You renew it when the neighborhood changes and you change, too, rather than letting those customers jump in their cars to take their custom somewhere else. And you earn your mojo everyday by supporting local initiatives before they become the latest eco-marketing trend. The reliance of local, independent businesses on their communities regularly places them at the forefront of environmental sustainability, even when they don’t make it into news. So, take another look around your local Square, Cambridge. The best in green business is just a pleasant stroll away.
by Amy Witherbee of Revolution Capital, CLF Board Member