Local Building Materials Initiative Builds on Benefits of Buying Local

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Tompkins Weekly — July 9, 2012
By J. Kofi Acquah

Located in the heart of Ithaca, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCETC) is taking what it means to be “local” to brand new heights, with the Local Building Materials Initiative (LBMI). Various “local” initiatives nationally have documented clear benefits to buying local. By supporting local businesses, your dollars are doing more than improving the livelihood and lives of the producers; you are also helping the local economy and your local community.

Many people in Tompkins County go out of their way to buy from local businesses because of the value they see in purchasing items directly from the source. Since its establishment in 1973, the Ithaca Farmers Market has been supporting local farms and businesses by attracting vast numbers of customers from across the county and beyond. The farmers market’s success is heavily due to its vendors’ great reputations. When buying from the farmers market one is buying from members of the community who have dedicated their lives to growing food and producing goods of the highest quality.

The Ithaca Farmers Market is something that many other types of local businesses wish they had. There is no such thing as a “mason’s market” for local concrete suppliers, “lumber market” for members of our community who run wood shops, or “metal market,” “stone market” or any other kind of market that sells locally produced building materials all in one place. Because of this, many people in our community don’t know where to find vendors who sell local building materials.

At CCETC, we see the market for local building materials and products as an area that has great potential, but which has been understudied and unsupported. To tap that potential, we partnered with the Ithaca Green Building Alliance to create the LBMI. There are many definitions for what constitutes “local”. For the purposes of this project, we are focusing on businesses within 100 miles from downtown Ithaca. By promoting the manufacture of building materials from within this area, the LBMI aims to enable both consumers and suppliers to be more responsive to their local community while framing locally produced building materials within the greater goal of sustainable development.

There are many benefits when products are manufactured and purchased locally. In addition to reducing environmental and transportation costs, buying local also keeps money circulating locally, which creates jobs both directly and indirectly. Other benefits to consumers include the fact that small local businesses generally offer a high level of expertise on the products and materials they sell. For example, a locally owned and operated lumber retail store would be able to tell you exactly where their wood comes from, explain the specific properties of a particular type of wood, recommend the best wood for your project, and, in many cases, make custom cuts for you.

One of the LBMI’s greater achievements has been the compilation of a free Directory of suppliers of local building materials. This go-to guide for finding locally produced building materials is an indispensable resource for finding businesses where your purchases will help your community in both direct and indirect ways. In addition to the standard address, phone number and homepage, a company’s listing also shows the local products they sell, services they offer, and other details pertaining to the company’s operations.

We are continually updating the Directory and value feedback from consumers and suppliers. In addition, we are working to identify the barriers that keep many people from buying local building materials. Through the LBMI, we hope to increase the existing demand for locally produced building materials and eventually stimulate sustainable economic development by encouraging entrepreneurs to locate in this area and producers to meet demands for products not currently being manufactured locally.

To learn more about the Local Building Materials Initiative, visit http://ccetompkins.org/home/green-building/local-building-materials-initiative. There, you will find more information about the benefits of buying local, fact sheets on how to buy and use local building materials, an online version of the Directory, a link to an interactive map of the listings in the Directory, and more.

J. Kofi Acquah is a Cornell University student intern working at Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County on the Local Building Materials Initiative.

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