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The 100 Mile Diet for Small Businesses

Making Green Procurement Easier


By now you've heard about the 100 Mile Diet, the result of a pledge by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon to buy or gather their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia for one full year. (Their book, The 100 Mile Diet, tells the story of the tribulations and triumphs of their experiment.)

But have you considered putting your small business on the 100 Mile Diet?

It's Not Just About Food

Eating locally is old news for those in the restaurant business, of course, many of whom base their reputations on elevating the locally available into fine cuisine.

But the 100 Mile Diet isn't just for restaurants because it's not just about food. More broadly, the 100 Mile Diet is about a commitment to green procurement, a commitment that every small business concerned about the environment should make.

What Is Green Procurement?

Green procurement means seeking out and buying goods and services that are less environmentally damaging. When we look at purchasing a particular product and consider how "green" it is compared to other product choices we might make, we have to consider the product's entire life cycle from manufacturing and transport to processing, disposal and recycling.

So, for instance, if I operate a retail store, and am committed to green procurement, I might choose to bag customers' purchases only in paper bags rather than plastic because of the horrendously long time that plastic bags take to decompose in landfills, and institute other policies, such as offering cloth bags for sale, to wean customers away from traditional bagging practices. In terms of green procurement, the question becomes, what is the best green source for these paper (and perhaps cloth) bags?

"Procurement policies could have a significant impact on a company’s environmental "footprint," given that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of a company's overall costs originate from purchasing" (Green Procurement Still a Work in Progress, SustainSource).

Making Green Procurement Easier

While green procurement is obviously a worthwhile goal, figuring out which product is greener than another and by how much can feel like you're working your way through a hedge maze and be just as time-consuming.

But you can use the 100 Mile Diet idea to simplify the process. Generally, goods and services that are produced locally are going to be less environmentally damaging than goods and services produced from afar, as less energy is expended getting them to the consumer.

Even if all I do is buy my office supplies from a supplier in my local town, rather than driving to another town to purchase them, I've eliminated the amount of carbon emissions my vehicle would emit as I drove those extra miles. Consider how much more vehicle pollution I could erase by doing this all year long.

Now obviously this example of green procurement breaks down when we think about the production aspect of office supplies. Many of us (including me) live in places that don’t produce things such as pens and paper. We may or may not even be able to find a producer within a thousand miles, let alone 100!

But we can supplement our green procurement practices with other environmentally friendly practices, such as reusing and recycling.

In this case, for instance, I could make even fewer trips to the office supply store by:

  • making my office more paperless by printing only when necessary;
  • using double-sided printing whenever possible;
  • invoicing electronically rather than sending invoices through the mail;
  • using refillable pens rather than "throwaways";
  • reusing old file folders.

See 10 Ways to Make Your Business Environmentally Friendly for more ideas.

Any Small Change is Good Change

Putting your small business on the 100 Mile Diet is an easy way to make green procurement a priority. One hundred miles may be too short a geographical limit for small businesses pursuing green procurement in a country as wide and lightly populated as Canada. But even if you make the commitment to try and procure your goods within 250 miles of your business, you will be lessening your impact on the environment. And if all this article does is make you start thinking about where the goods you get come from and choosing to procure goods closer to you, that will help, too.

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