Distribution involved transporting and selling al the stuff quickly and cheaply. The goal here is to keep prices down, keep the people buying and keep the materials flow moving. A key strategy businesses use to keep prices down is to externalize costs. That means that the price tags on consumer products don’t capture the true costs of producing and distributing all this stuff.
Distributing all this stuff creates more environmental impacts. Energy is a used to transport all the stuff around the world as well as for lighting and temperature control of all the shopping malls and stores. The sprawling retail infrastructure is chewing up farmland and wildlife habitat, contributing to car traffic, increasing greenhouse gases and urban run off and adding to local solid waste streams.
The failure of some big commercial retailers to provide adequate health coverage for workers is well documented. Requiring low paid store workers to cover health care costs, increase their stress and divert already short earning from other basic needs and may undermine workers’ long term health. Shoppers also suffer as walking to local community based businesses is replaced by more sedentary stressful driving to malls.
While big box stores tout the jobs they provide, most of the new service sector jobs are in the suburbs, yet the highest concentration of unemployed workers is in urban areas. Big box stores could better support workers by locating close to available labor, providing health care and fair worker benefits and welcoming efforts by workers who wish to unionize.
Increasingly globalized distribution systems present obstacles to promoting sustainability and justice in the distribution of goods. It is harder to track the location and conditions under which products are made and harder to hold decision makers accountable along the way. Most retailers don’t even know all the companies in a product’s supply chain and , if they do, they often choose to keep it confidential.
There are many strategies available to improve the environmental and social impact of distribution systems. Successful strategies include Fair Trade certification, Community Benefits Agreements to ensure new businesses benefit the community, Green Buildings, Sustainable Land Use Planning, and Local Living Economies which build communities with a healthy social and natural environment.
NGOs to Contact
Click the HERE for a list of organizations working on the issue of distribution. This list is not exhaustive. At this stage, we have limited the list to organizations in the U.S. Many more internation, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be found at wiserearth.org, an online community directory and networking forum that maps and connects NGOs working on critical environmental and social issues of our times.
To add your own organization, please post your profile on wiserearth.org in order to connect with others around the world with shared interests.