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Localwashing: Shop Locally at Your Neighborhood Corporate Store

by Christine DeSadeleer Oct 22, 2009
The culture of shopping locally is engulfed by corporations all over the world.

I know that there are quite a few of us out there that try to stay local when traveling. And by “stay local,” I don’t mean literally staying smack in the middle of town (though that may be part of the agenda).

Rather, I’m saying that many of us like to experience the place we are visiting by eating the local foods, shopping at the local stores, and frequenting local coffee shops and bars.

Enter “Localwashing” – coming soon to a town near you.

Yep, corporations have taken notice of the “shop local” movements happening in countries throughout the world. In a recent post at, author Stacy Mitchell notes that HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, has a new tagline: “the world’s local bank.” Ah.

It gets better, though. Probably a few of you have heard about Starbucks closing shops in Seattle in order to reopen them under the local-sounding name, “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” (sorry, Starbucks, cat’s out of the bag). And the good ole’ southern US grocery chain, Winn-Dixie, just launched a new ad campaign that states: “Local flavor since 1956.”

Here’s my absolute favorite:

The International Council of Shopping Centers, a consortium of mall owners and developers, has poured millions of dollars into television ads urging people to “Shop Local”—at their nearest mall.

Alright, with the growth of ad campaigns that implore us to “shop local” including both the independent local grocery store and the Wal-Mart that carries some local, organic produce, some may wonder what the true difference is for the town in which they are located.

Well, shop at a chain store, and only $13 out of every $100 stays locally, even when they have some local produce, crafts, or clothes. Shop at a local store (which may still have corporate products on their shelves) and $45 out of $100 goes back into the community.

The Traveler’s Conundrum

In the past, we’ve looked at secrets for eating like a local when traveling to a new destination, and the importance of local self-reliance in the “creation of a local economy for food and other essential goods…relying upon traditional knowledge of medicinal plants, herbs, barks, roots, and ferments in health care.”

But what does Localwashing mean to travelers? Sure, this ‘revolution’ is starting out in American cities and suburbs, but as we all know, corporations reach their grubby little hands all over the world. So watch out for those Maharaja Macs at a local Mumbai eatery – you might just have walked into the golden arches cleverly disguised trap.

What do you think about the “Localwashing” movement? Share your thoughts below.

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