Friday night ended with a bang as Michelle Long of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and Jay Coen Gilbert of B Lab engaged in a dialog on the issue of whether going to scale or staying local is more effective in building a sustainable economy.
Jay began with a humorous, but earnest, argument that ‘Bigger is Better’. He used examples to illustrate how scale can effect the whole on a greater level. He cited how employees of Wal-Mart, who had been discriminated against, came together to sue the company. He pointed out how as China invests in scaling solar the price per kilowatt will come under $1. And he pointed to one of the biggest challenges, and opportunities, for effecting change at scale – finding innovations that can help the 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day. He argued that these are solutions and challenges of such scale, that small, local initiatives could not effectively address them.
Michelle countered saying a local living economy is scalable and so to assume that “local” means “small” is incorrect. She also pointed out that ownership and stakeholder involvement matter and that a business should work with its peers and community. Being in business and having a sustainable community are about getting people to solve the problems which are in their own communities, enabling collaborations and getting rid of barriers.
A local business gives 2 ½ times more to the community than other businesses and is more likely to be accountable to its environmental impact, Michelle asserted. Humans are hardwired to work well in a small group dynamic, she insisted, while larger groups make the individual invisible.
In the end it is not scale matters or small is beautiful but a balance and combination of the two. This community conversation provided much fodder for continued discussions into the evening for many.
This post was written for SVN during their spring member conference.
Click here to see the rest of the SVN coverage of the 2010 Spring Member Gathering.