This Year, Small Business Saturday Is More Important Than Ever

Shopping small can fight the carbon crisis if stores survive the COVID crisis.

The Green Jar
The Green Jar.

Lloyd Alter

Tannis and Mara Bundi opened The Green Jar Shop in December 2019. It's a "refillery" where you bring in your own package and fill it with their carefully chosen green products. Just a few weeks after they opened, they had to close their doors because of COVID-19.

Tannis Bundi tells Treehugger, "We were deemed an essential business, because we sell home and care essentials as well as prepared foods, so we were able to provide contactless pickups, deliveries, and private online shopping."

But it was hard, especially when people thought that the virus could live on surfaces and everybody was afraid to touch anything.

"It was an uncertain time with a lot of fear and mixed messages. We read that there was over a 300% increase in single-use plastics since the pandemic began. Later studies showed that reusables were safer to use and easier to clean. At one point, we were refusing customers’ containers. The goal of our business is to encourage folks to invest in and support a circular economy, so the purchasing of new containers every time did not align with our values.
Our solution was to have them purchase a clean container that they could later reuse or return for a bottle credit. Local deliveries allowed us to pick up the empties off the porch and give them a new/filled bottle of product (like the milk deliveries we used to grow up with). Once we opened, we invited folks to bring back the containers they purchased from us, and gave them a credit to use in-store or online."
Interior of store
Interior of The Green Jar.

Lloyd Alter

But they persevered. As the pandemic winds down, we wondered if they are optimistic about the future, if retail will come back. Tannis Bundi says, "Our optimism and pragmatism has allowed us to stay alive this long. If we can survive a global pandemic (which we didn’t factor into our business plan), then we feel strongly that the next few years will be easier."

That attitude is reason enough to support this local female BIPOC-led business. But in these times of climate crisis, there are many more. That's why Small Business Saturday is so important, and why we should shop small all year round.

Treehugger has covered Small Business Saturday since it was founded by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We loved it because, as Stephanie Meeks of the Trust noted, "When we invest in small businesses, we are investing in Main Streets—the places that give our towns and cities a unique sense of place." Selfishly, I liked it because all my kids worked in service of some kind, and as Michael Shuman has written, "It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages, and serve primarily local consumers."

But today, the main reason I support my local shops on our nearby main street is that if we are going to get people out of their cars, we need to have shops where we can get what we need within walking and biking distances.

As Alex Steffen has written, "The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go." And the best innovation of the last few years is the Fifteen-Minute City, where you can get all of the goods and services you need within a short walk. As the C40 Mayors noted in their Green and Just recovery plan,

"We are implementing urban planning policies to promote the ‘15-minute city’ (or ‘complete neighborhoods’) as a framework for recovery, whereby all city residents are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their homes. The presence of nearby amenities, such as healthcare, schools, parks, food outlets and restaurants, essential retail, and offices, as well as the digitalisation of some services, will enable this transition. In order to achieve this in our cities, we must create a regulatory environment that encourages inclusive zoning, mixed-use development, and flexible buildings and spaces." 

As I noted in my book, "Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle," driving cars is probably the biggest part of our personal carbon footprint, and it is directly related to the kind of place we live in.

"How we live and how we get around are not two separate issues; they are two sides of the same coin, the same thing in different languages. It’s much easier to live a low-carbon life if you live in a place designed before the car took over, be it a small town or an older city."

That's why our main streets and our small businesses are so important; they are key to a low carbon lifestyle, key to making the 15-minute city work.

I asked Tannis Bundi what the City could do to promote small business and make it easier; here in Toronto, business taxes are very high because the government doesn't like raising taxes on voting residents. This is why so many storefronts are turning into apartments; the taxes are way lower. Her suggestions:

  • Campaigns like the City of Toronto’s Shop Here helped immensely; it helped businesses create an online presence and e-commerce platform. More programs training small businesses on how to recover from the pandemic would help.
  • Promote the growth of small and sustainable businesses with tax breaks.
  • Provide grants to small businesses versus loans.
  • Tax the large big-box corporations that make more money in a single day than we small business owners ever could in a year.
  • Promote BIPOC and female-led businesses.
  • We need more campaigns to encourage consumers to shop local versus big box stores.

The pandemic has killed many businesses, and the ones that remain need our help. They are key to rebuilding our cities, to providing jobs, to reducing carbon emissions. This Small Business Saturday, support your local shops. And keep doing it, all year round.