Black Friday and sustainability
As December crept upon us, it is time to turn on the happy lights and look into some brands that took a different approach to Black Friday. We know that Black Friday is a consumerist holiday with a massive impact on the environment and people. However, conscious companies are taking a stance against it, trying to raise awareness and encourage people to adopt a slow shopping mentality rather than getting tangled in overconsumption. But is there even such a thing as brands doing Black Friday right when the main aim of the holiday is to maximise profits?
With over 50 million tons of electronic waste generated every year and 10.000 clothing items ending up in the landfill every five minutes due to fast fashion, saying that we have a problem feels like an understatement. The upward trend in Black Friday sales with each passing year has been feeding our waste and overconsumption challenges. These daunting stats are bound to increase if consumers and brands don’t take a stand against consumerist holidays like Black Friday.
“Today, Black Friday could just as easily refer to the day’s carbon footprint driven by the spree of overconsumption, fuelled in part by countless ads encouraging people to go shopping.” – A. Simms & T. Kasser, 2020, ‘Black Friday and the climate emergency’, The Ecologist
Brands are rising up against Black Friday
Ethical brands took various approaches when it came to Black Friday. Some brands have decided to boycott the holiday altogether and not lure customers with flashy discounts. A few of them even decided to close their stores on the day of Black Friday to emphasize their disapproval of the holiday. Others opted to donate part of their earnings during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period to environmental organisations or invest in carbon offsetting by planting trees. Finally, many sustainable brands still offered discounts. Through this, they wanted to persuade customers into purchasing environmentally-friendly products rather than having them support less sustainable companies.
Sustainable brands are also promoting the ‘Giving Tuesday’ movement that started in 2012. This holiday takes place on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving and encourages people to donate to organisations that support humanitarian and environmental causes. Since its start 8 years ago, Giving Tuesday has inspired people to donate $1.9 billion to NGOs in the US alone. This year, Giving Tuesday takes place on 1 December.
Brands that are doing Black Friday right
It is not the first year the clothing brand Patagonia decided not to support Black Friday. The brand already makes notable efforts towards sustainability. In addition to working towards very ambitious sustainability goals (like becoming carbon neutral by 2025), Patagonia donates 1% of its revenues to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.
In the past years, the conscious brand donated 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental causes. Subsequently, Patagonia donated a staggering amount of $10 million to protect our air, water, and soil as a result of their Black Friday sales in 2016. This year, Patagonia continues on the same trend and vouched to donate a share of its Black Friday sales to environmental causes.
Apart from not engaging with the Black Friday sales approach, Patagonia encourages its customers to purchase used items with their ‘Worn Wear’ program. It enables customers to sell their used clothes to others and to support a circular economy. This can make a big difference for our climate, waste, and water consumption, as extending the lifespan of clothes by 9 months is estimated to decrease their environmental impacts by 20-30% compared to purchasing new items.
Using worn-out truck tarps and recycled PET bottles, the bag company Freitag is taking great steps towards sustainability. This year for Black Friday, Freitag closed their online store and encouraged people to swap their used bags through their S.W.A.P. program. The name creatively stands for ‘Shopping Without Any Payment’.
With the message ‘100% off – Don’t shop, just S.W.A.P.’, the company makes it possible for customers to exchange their old Freitag bags. Through this, the brand aims to promote a circular economy and raise awareness about overconsumption.
The clothing brand Raeburn pledged allegiance to the ‘boycott Black Friday’ movement by closing their physical and online stores during the holiday. Moreover, they want to incentivise customers to wear their clothes for longer to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental impact.
Therefore, Raeburn introduced for the second year their ‘Buy Nothing, Repair Something’ campaign. Customers could bring any piece of clothing from any brand to the Raeburn Lab in London, where they were repaired for free. Consequently, the responsible design brand promotes the 3 R’s that envelop their business model: Remade, Reduced, Recycled.
Another company that chose to put a halt to the Black Friday madness is the self-entitled ‘abnormal beauty company’ DECIEM. On Black Friday 2020, DECIEM closed its online and physical stores, encouraging people to shop slowly and consciously.
The beauty company encompassing 7 different brands also launched the ‘KNOWvember’ movement. This aims to educate people and draw attention to overconsumption. Each day of November, DECIEM posted on their website videos about the benefits of their products and aimed to raise awareness about the negative impacts of Black Friday.
However, DECIEM still wanted their customers to benefit from a discount and offered 23% off all their products during the entire month of November.
The London-based sustainable clothing shop Birdsong launched the ‘Transparent Friday’ movement. Through this, they wanted to switch the conversation towards the true costs of fashion and of paying workers fairly. Birdsong explains how the costs of their products are divided between wages, packaging, and materials and makes comparisons with the H&M brand to draw attention to some of the social costs of fast fashion.
After reading the company’s Transparent Friday manifesto, Birdsong’s customers had the choice to opt for a 10% or 15% discount, to pay the full price of the products, or to pay an extra. The last option supports the brand to continue making changes towards more sustainable and ethical fashion industry.
Final thoughts on Black Friday
The ‘boycott Black Friday’ movement is gaining momentum. An increasing number of brands are making efforts to educate their customers about hyper-consumption and the environmental impact of this holiday. Unfortunately, we could not find any electronic brands that took a stance against Black Friday. Electronic waste is predicted to reach 74 million tons by 2030, approximately twice the amount we generated in 2014. Besides, let’s not forget that a mere share of 17.4% of e-waste was collected and recycled in 2019. Most of the rest is just lying in our landfills, trapping useful and depleting materials and producing toxic discharges.
Therefore, a big question emerges: are these conscious movements enough to make a difference in the grand scheme of things? The answer is most likely ‘no’, especially since they’re brands that were built around sustainability and attract mainly conscious consumers. However, they are good incentives to change the conversation and educate people about the social and environmental costs of overconsumption.
A glance into the future
Consumers still need to become aware of these issues. Furthermore, we have to make the effort to click the close button on flashy sales and avoid purchasing useless things. And let’s be honest, this is nowhere close to an easy task. Moreover, companies, retailers, and governments (like the case of France) would need to join the movement and boycott consumerist holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This would mean massive economic losses for the greater good – ultimately, the survival and well-being of our species. Are we anywhere near that?
“Not only has humanity used up a third of nature’s resources. We keep on consuming them. At an increasing rate. Today we need about 1.75 planets to provide the resources for our consumption and absorb our waste. By 2030, we will need 2 planets. We only have one.” – The World Counts, n.d., ‘We are consuming the future’