Is it ethical to shop locally? On the face if it the immediate answer is yes and I try to where I can.
By patronising your local high street you are going some way to make sure that it survives. So many of our town centres are struggling and need our help. Surely it makes good ethical sense to use our purchasing power locally.
Then there is the question of sustainability and the effect upon the environment. Traveling miles to buy something that you could buy down the road cannot be good for the world. If you think about the fuel that you have used and the wear and tear on your vehicle it all adds up. Even using public transport puts an unnecessary strain on the system if it is not essential.
Food miles, or any other for that matter, are difficult to calculate. You have little idea of how far the goods you have bought have travelled or the method in which they have been transported. Indeed goods that appear to have been grown or made locally may have been distributed halfway across the country due to the vagaries of logistics. Energy is relatively cheap and it is often more economical to move goods further than to build local distribution centres.
Surely then, paying a little more to buy what you need locally makes sense, or does it?
If we all buy locally however, it will lead to a lack of competition. Business may well become complacent about the needs of customers, quality of service may drop and prices will ultimately rise. When local customers finally decide that such an approach has been wrong it will be very easy for competitors to come in and clean up. Also, there are businesses in developing countries that rely upon global trade to survive.
Buying locally may not be as straightforward as it seems.
What is to be done then? As a consumer we can try and come to a compromise. Perhaps we can consider a price differential that we are prepared to swallow, above which we will buy elsewhere.
As a business we can try and set policies about how we source products, their effect upon the environment and perhaps set an objective to sell a percentage of goods that meet certain ethical standards.
Ethical considerations are not easy. They always involve some form of compromise. Identifying these difficulties and making your position clear is one way in which a business can differentiate itself.