Glocalization and Circular Economies

Coffee With Doc: Glocalization (Video 3.75 minutes).

“Glocalization” is a hybrid word: global + local; implying global awareness and learning, but action at a local level. This term is uncommon, but not new. It describes many movements quietly trying to make a difference in world ecology by transforming what they do, where they are. One of them is a Food Co-Op forming in Hondo, Texas. Its members are learning the ropes at a farmers’ market. Modest, perhaps, and a long way from everything the world needs, but a food co-op is an action people can take now.

To get going, the Hondo Food Co-Op has an educational program. Enthusiastic growers learn from each other. A few buyers do too, but many must learn to prepare fresh food before they will buy it. In a sense, the co-op is intervening in prospective members’ ways of life to make them more self-reliant. The venture is more than a retailing concept.

Promoting local food presents “practical problems.” Local fresh food can be offered much of the year, but not at the ebb of growing seasons, so to stock the co-op year round, food has to come from elsewhere. To do that, the co-op must battle the supply chain efficiencies of big grocers, like Wal-Mart, while bringing in as much regionally as possible. Its mission is to provide better nutrition at prices affordable by mid-to-low income people. It’s not to maximize market share or drive for the lowest possible price.

Understanding this requires an education strategy. Doing as much as possible locally means that everyone, including customers, learns how to do more for themselves. A co-op does not offer the ultimate in convenience. It creates experiences and strives for quality over quantity, helping people to eat nutritionally without busting a strapped family’s budget.

If you think only of the physical economy, local food has a short haul and uses little packaging, so why should it cost more? One reason is that paid labor to do this may cost more. As long as energy and material costs are cheap, automation and transport will win a commodity price war. Technology even exists to haul grapes all the way from South America at low cost.

But local has three advantages: It is likely to win a nutrition war. It develops people to help themselves – to intuit what great nutrition is, and to know the sources of their food. And it helps build community with convivial transactions and plain old learning about what’s good and what’s not – including preventing food borne illness. That is, a co-op promotes local learning and self-sufficiency. This learning by doing is a form of vigorous learning.

A food co-op is but a start toward the physical economy needed to cope with resource shortages and environmental limits. That’s often called a circular economy: re-use, re-purpose, re manufacture, recycle, share a great deal of equipment, and sometimes to design for very long life. (How many dwellings today have a design life of 500 years?) And the circles need to be small, not global orbits.

Lowest initial price is not compatible with circular economy thinking. The social change to local action is big, but not impossible to imagine, and if we can imagine it, we have a chance of doing it. This represents a deep shift in business thinking. Circular economy goals are more extensive than capturing market share or maximizing ROI, which are intrinsically short term. For example, building a 500-year house does not fit conventional business models, commercial legal logic – perhaps not even many current concepts of property if it was part of community commons.

A co-op is a legal form of business, one owned by its members, each having equal voting rights. By intent, a co-op operates to benefit all members, while legally, a for-profit C-corporation primarily benefits ownership. In practice enlightened governance of a C-corporation may benefit many more people. Indeed conventional economic theory is that self-interest operating through markets will do that, but in practice that theory presumes a degree of owner enlightenment that seldom exists.

Pressure to maximize profit to some more than others tempts co-operatives to drift away from serving all members. Those who want to funnel benefits to themselves can undermine a collaborative business enterprise, no matter what legal basis it may have. They may sabotage both its practices and its legal support system. If in the grip of ownership profit motive, they may not even realize that they are doing it. Each little change is easy to justify based on efficiency, fairness, or some other perceived competitive advantage.

Concepts other than competing to maximize profit or market share do not have great sticking power in a society steeped in competitive business. In this business environment, working to help – and to educate – each other is a fragile idea. And an E-corporation, one “owned by Earth,” completely befuddles prevailing business mindsets and legal systems. Not only does it churn the “rules of the game,” it questions whether the whole game has any value.

But millions are not faring well in the current economy, so what can they do? Create their own work to assure their own future, for them, their community, and the planet. If there is nothing else to do, this may not seem such a far-fetched, impossible idea. Listen to new tunes outside classic economics, accompanied by different concepts of what represents success – something beyond competitive advantage and “more is always better.”

That’s a huge jolt to the status quo, but one way or another, a big jolt is coming anyway. Why not anticipate it?

Nobody can predict exactly what’s going to happen. Preparation for huge change is partly seeking different methodologies, but the biggest shift is in concepts of property, ownership, and relationships. Who owns what, why, and what are their responsibilities for it? In a whirlwind like this, becoming a Vigorous Learning Organization would not be an option. It would be vital. And it might even be fun, more satisfying than just doing the same old, same old until you can’t do it anymore.

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