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Behavior Change
Want Economic Equality? Change Your Shopping Habits

The more mature you get, the more you start to understand that the little, normal things you do and the routines you follow make a big impact over time. Leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth, and you’re wasting up to 200 gallons of water each month. Bike to work every day, and you’re cutting down on household emissions by at least 6 percent while lessening vehicular pollution by about .97 pounds per mile. If you drive 500 miles to and from work each year — an underestimate — you’re spewing 485 pounds of pollution into the air.

Shopping is another routine activity, and no doubt you’re used to thinking critically about the products you purchase. But have you ever thought about where you shop? I’m not talking about whether you go to the closest co-op or Walmart. I’m talking about the actual location of your shopping destinations.

The Difference Location Makes

In a recent study, French researchers used network science to analyze data on over 150,000 people in Barcelona and Madrid. They looked at more than 95,000 business transactions, noting which neighborhoods were economically disadvantaged and which were not. An experiment was then conducted with the data.

The findings revealed that if people were to alter just 5 percent of their shopping trips, rerouting them to economically disadvantaged neighborhoods instead of upper-class ones, the cities would reach economic equality over time. In other words, people in underprivileged neighborhoods would gain more wealth if people from other neighborhoods decided to change their habits and shop in the disadvantaged neighborhoods just five times out of one hundred.

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This makes particular sense in cities where there are plenty of local businesses owned and staffed by people who live close to them. But even rerouting trips to big-box stores in underprivileged areas can help. Near big-box stores, other businesses spring up when entrepreneurs discover there’s an influx of shoppers who need goods and services the big stores can’t provide.

Businesses less than a year old create 1.5 million jobs annually. Shopping in economically disadvantaged areas helps new businesses get started and creates new jobs. Even if you shop at a big, corporate store such as Walmart in a poor neighborhood, you’re helping the people who work there keep their jobs, while providing the opportunity for further advancement. The money you spend pays their wages, and they redistribute it to other businesses in their area. Eventually, they may even start their own businesses.

This is especially relevant now in America. The phrase “shopping trip” increasingly refers to sitting down at a computer to order something from Amazon. About 99 percent of companies are small to medium-sized businesses, meaning there are ample opportunities to shop at stores in poor neighborhoods instead of buying from corporate giants, where your dollar doesn’t go as far towards supporting the local community.

Last year, Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion and vowed to slash prices by up to 43 percent. It would seem that going to Whole Foods supports local and regional manufacturers and farmers while simultaneously supporting Amazon and Whole Foods employees. But when was the last time you saw a Whole Foods in an economically depressed neighborhood? Say you go to Whole Foods 100 times during the year. Take five of those trips and alter them to a local retailer in a less affluent neighborhood, and you’re making a difference.

Decreasing Economic Inequality and Increasing Sustainability

When it comes to global income inequality, 71 percent of adults have less than $10,000 dollars to their name. In part, this is linked to a rise in trade. As the following graph shows, trade has risen dramatically since the 1950s. 2010 saw trade increase at a rate of nearly 5,000 percent.

Of course, shopping at a Walmart in an economically disadvantaged area is better for promoting economic equality than shopping at one in a wealthy neighborhood — but shopping local is better overall.

Businesses that sell local, regional, or American-made products contribute to less pollution than businesses that sell imported products. In fact, there’s evidence that pollution from Chinese manufacturing contributes to smog in the United States. Although emissions from China’s exports to Europe and North America decreased by 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, there’s still the fact that they see longer trips to get here than American-made goods do.

I’m not implying that local businesses in poor areas don’t sell imported products. But it is possible to find small businesses in these neighborhoods that sell American, regional, and locally made goods. When you go out of your way to shop at these businesses, you’re doing both the economy and the environment a favor. It just takes a simple change in your shopping habits.


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