Sustaining Gifts

A friend of mine surprised me with a gift basket for my birthday. She knows me well and packed it full of treasures to pamper and delight me.

Her basket included: chocolates (organic), my favorite bath oil (natural), a novel by an author I admire (from a local used book store), from her son, a "critter sitter" coupon promising to care for our plants and animals when we're away, and a certificate for a massage from a mutual friend who has a home-based therapy business.

I tell you this story because baskets are important in our economy. Analysts often measure the economy's progress by appraising the content and price of "the market basket of goods and services."

Our current basket of goods and services is produced with enormous social and environmental costs. What can we do? Switch to a basket of goods and services that can be sustainably produced and provide quality of life for all, today and tomorrow.

Take the basket from my friend. It nourishes my spirit and nurtures the growth of a sustainable economy. The purchase of the chocolates and bath oil help expand sustainable agriculture and green business. It represents fair trade between a citizen of my community and businesses in several others (in the US and Central America) who share a vision of building thriving, sustainable communities around the world.

Purchasing a used book keeps dollars local and a book moving between people, rather than into the landfill. The massage certificate supports a home-based business that is providing meaningful work and security. And the "critter sitter" coupon weaves our families closer together, creating bonds that build strong friendships and communities -- important ingredients for any market basket.

The simple idea of shifting baskets can take the heat out of "growth at any cost" or "jobs versus the environment" arguments. It shifts the discussion to figuring out how to provide the goods, services, and jobs people need while nurturing, not destroying our planet.

At Co-op America, we recently analyzed a typical household budget and found that a family could purchase over 50 percent of the products and services it buys in a year from sustainable businesses. These are businesses that are designing sustainable production methods, expanding markets for sustainable agriculture and recycled goods, keeping dollars in communities, shortening transportation route, creating meaningful jobs, enriching community life, and showing other companies how to be socially, environmentally and financially sound.

These businesses also educate customers about good value and long-lasting products. By strengthening community life, they foster lower-consumption, higher fulfillment living.

What encouraging news! If all families and communities began shifting 50 percent of their budgets to sustainable businesses, we'd have a market basket of goods and services that nurture people and the planet in no time at all. Here's to the power of shifting budgets and baskets!

Reprinted from Co-op America Quarterly, 1612 K St., NW, #600 Washington, DC 20006 Tel: 202/872-5307

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