The Evolution of Think Globally, Act Locally

By Tom Havran
The first real car I bought was a well-used, forest green 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle with a cracked windshield, a heating system that “warmed” the interior with choking exhaust fumes and a carburetor with its own bipolar-disordered mind. At some point in its history, the car had acquired a “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper sticker, the feature that ultimately charmed me into shelling out my entire savings of $1,300 to bring the wreck home.

My bug was born in a time when local community co-ops and natural foods buying clubs were well-established alternatives to mainstream supermarkets and the canned, plastic-wrapped and flash-frozen foods they offered. My car proudly sported its bumper sticker on trips to my quirky and fabulous local natural food co-op.

Think globally, act locally

Act globally, act locally: A woman processes organic vanilla beans at our Well Earth supplier in Madagascar.

But the resonance of the phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” was diminished somewhat during the late 1980s through the early 2000s, when small community natural foods outlets began to disappear. I came to Frontier in 1993 and the process was in full swing. Each month brought more store closings, buy-outs and conversions into the big chain natural markets that are everywhere in urban and suburban areas today, with their shelves and coolers filled to bursting with exotic, gourmet-specialty and imported foods as well as natural and organic offerings. Back in the 90s, my ’74 beetle seemed to be as obsolete as those co-ops with their bulk bins, small bakeries, juice bars, crates of local produce and often volunteer staff. The situation troubled me. If acting locally wasn’t saving the co-ops how could merely thinking globally protect anything on a planetary scale?

The Natural Renaissance

Fortunately, the trend eventually stalled (along with my ailing, air-polluting VW) and a new model of small-market relevance began to take shape. Some local and regional co-ops made it through the big buyout and shut down period. Today, more and more natural foods stores, markets and local food economies are opening up and thriving right alongside their successful big chain neighbors. The developing food trends of knowing your grower, localized farm-to-family distribution, and appeal of eating fresh foods in season have done wonders to revitalize co-ops and small, regional natural food markets. It seems there’s room for everyone now.

Natural, organic, sustainable and socially responsible natural products have altered the retail grocery landscape and are reaching the widest audience ever. The strategic answer from the industrial agriculture complex of doubling down on big box–priced, genetically-modified, nutritionally void and flavorless products won’t likely offer an appealing or sustainable alternative to the natural renaissance that has taken hold in an invigorated market.

But what has this success done to the wisdom embodied in that old phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally”? Rather than make it obsolete, I think it has expanded the power in that line of thinking and the potential for sustainable action it inspires. Exploding communication technologies, e-commerce, carbon-offset shipping, packaging, retailing, and our increasingly linked global economies have redefined what local goods and services are. Fair Trade Certified™ and programs that give a percentage of sales back to the source can reasonably and sustainably foster a larger “local” food shed. Whether a farmer is 10 miles down the road or 10,000 miles across the ocean, consumers want to support them and companies are doing their part.

Why can’t we support wider sustainability by making our local purchase act globally? Why can’t we affect global change by consuming beyond the local level? Why can’t we be locavores to the world? One would be hard-pressed to grow sugar, coffee, cocoa, tea and vanilla locally in Iowa, yet a majority of us consume these goods one way or the other. Even if you somehow could grow them locally, how would that sustain the ages old agricultural resources, peoples and economies that have developed around these commodities in the regions where they naturally come from? Instead, we can create ways to make our local spending profitable, sustainable and responsible on a far-reaching global level.

Act Globally, Act Locally

A wise natural foods consumer can “buy-in” to this potential with companies like Frontier, with its own Well Earth® sustainable sourcing certification program built upon a robust audit of far distance sources of products. Through Well Earth, as well as the Aura Cacia and Simply Organic 1% Funds, Frontier reinvests a portion of profits back in the communities where we source our products, creating better living conditions, better quality goods and better exchange — for example, by digging 49 wells for villages in Madagascar.

 So, here’s a new slogan for us: Act Globally, Act Locally. It’s a brilliant way to buy goods locally while your dollars reach and help support the source globally.

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