It’s time to stop before you shop. We’re taking a step back to shed light on the issues with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
It’s that time of the year again: with Halloween behind us and the holidays ahead, businesses are bombarding our mailboxes with promotional emails, and our social media feeds are filled with one thing—Black Friday.
The biggest shopping event of the year is happening on Friday 26th November, closely followed by another: Cyber Monday. As usual, we’ve been prompted for a good few weeks already to get the early deals and prepare for the hefty discounts. But this year, it feels even more acute in part due to the supply chain crisis that is threatening to disrupt the holiday shopping season.
But this unconscious shopping frenzy cannot be good for the planet, people, and animals, and more and more people are starting to question and boycott shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Even when brands and organisations put a “sustainable” spin on Black Friday, pushing “eco-friendly” deals, something feels off. There’s an increasing amount of greenwashing around these sales, but the overconsumption encouraged during this time can never truly be sustainable.
So this year, we’re taking a step back to shed light on the environmental and social damage of Black Friday. It’s time to stop before you shop and ask: what is Black Friday? Where did it come from? What’s wrong with it? And most importantly, how can we, as conscious consumers, fight against the tide?
What is Black Friday?
Before we look into the issues with Black Friday, let’s rewind a little.
While many believe the term “black” in Black Friday is linked to “showing a profit; not showing any losses,” the first mentions of Black Friday as we know it are said to have occurred around the 1960s in Philadelphia. Traffic police officers coined the term to describe the large crowds (creating traffic jams and overcrowded sidewalks) rushing to the stores on the Friday following Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping.
Retailers have since taken advantage of Black Friday, putting a positive spin on it and doing their best to attract larger crowds thanks to exclusive deals and discounts.
Black Friday is originally an (unofficial) American holiday, but in recent decades, the US phenomenon has spread its tendrils across the globe, in-store and online.
During Black Friday and its online cousin, Cyber Monday, retailers have one big goal: attract consumers to their store and website with one unmissable deal, hoping that you’ll fill your cart with more things you don’t need once you’re there.
What started as one day of shopping has become a whole season, with offers and discounts beginning as early as October.
What’s wrong with Black Friday?
Whenever I see articles or receive emails from brands or news outlets promoting the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, urging me to buy, buy, buy, I cringe. And I’m sure you do too. Let’s take a look at why your gut feels so bad about it, even if you can’t put your finger on it just yet.
Black Friday’s environmental impact
The fashion industry, and especially fast fashion, is already polluting and exploitative as it is. Black Friday makes it even worse, as more and more people are prompted to spend their hard-earned dollars on those juicy deals.
More global consumer spending means more products being manufactured and shipped worldwide, so it’s no surprise that Black Friday’s carbon footprint has grown accordingly. According to one report, online shopping for Black Friday 2020 in the UK alone emitted 429,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, the same weight as 61,308 elephants. Just picture that for a moment.
Because so many transactions are made, more emissions are created, more waste is generated, and more trucks are dispatched to meet the demand. The Guardian even revealed that in 2017, a diesel truck left an Amazon fulfilment centre around every 93 seconds.
Transportation has a significant environmental impact here, too. It has been estimated that shipping accounts for 3-4% of human-caused carbon emissions. A recent report from the European Parliament estimated that the number could rise as high as 17% by 2050.
But Black Friday’s environmental impact doesn’t stop the moment the products land on our doorsteps. No—Black Friday promotes overconsumption, pushing consumerism to its extremes by telling us we need more unnecessary, unwanted, cheap goods made from poor-quality, unsustainable materials. And what happens when we realise that juicy deal is falling apart? Most of us throw it away. In fact, one study has suggested that up to 80% of our Black Friday purchases are thrown away after just one or even zero uses.
Black Friday’s social impact
Black Friday doesn’t just impact the planet we live on. It also affects all of us, starting with the workers who produce the goods we’re buying.
Production at a large scale often comes with outsourcing labour to nations where brands get away with paying pennies, depriving workers of access to a living wage and safe working conditions, and trapping them in an inhumane cycle of poverty. And as you might have guessed, the extra profit generated by the sale of even cheaper goods during Black Friday doesn’t end up in the workers’ wallets.
Then comes the workers that package, ship, and deliver the products. They are often under a lot of stress during this time of year, working long hours—from 12-16 each day at Amazon—to meet deadlines. Last year, Amazon workers in Germany even threatened to go on strike during Black Friday to demand better pay and working conditions.
Black Friday also impacts us as consumers, playing on the idea that in this capitalist world, our value is based on the commodities we own and that by buying more things, we’ll feel better—more appreciated, loved, respected, and so on.
As Our Changing Climate highlight in their video, Black Friday’s deals and discounts aren’t created with shoppers in mind—they’re designed to plump up the companies’ balance sheets and the CEOs’ wallets. Black Friday is one of the many ways big brands are exploiting the working class for a profit.
A note on calling out people who shop during Black Friday
We’ve all seen the videos of the enormous crowds in shopping malls during Black Friday, shamelessly putting everything they can get their hands on in their carts. But this isn’t everyone’s reality. For some, Black Friday is one of their only chances to buy things they need. Calling out Black Friday shoppers doesn’t help, and some even argue that it’s classist, racist, and sexist.
Part of the solution lies in all of us individually taking a step back, looking at what we consume and asking ourselves if we really need to participate in Black Friday—not judging what’s in our neighbour’s cart.
The other and most important part of the solution lies in addressing the systemic issues that lead to this yearly hysteria.
So what can you do instead?
Say no to the culture of overconsumption perpetuated by #BlackFriday sales, and remember we have power as consumers to push for positive change with more than just our spending 🖤
So you’ve decided not to engage in Black Friday this year and to encourage those around you to do the same—congrats! But, what can you do instead? And where do you start?
At Good On You, we want to help you avoid the hype and embrace ethical consumerism. And to do that, we recommend you stop before you shop. Give yourself the gift of taking a moment to shift from unconscious to conscious consumer. Before you reach for your wallet, start by asking yourself these three questions. After doing this short exercise, you might find that you don’t need any new stuff after all.
Take a look at what’s already in your wardrobe and apply the 5 Rs of sustainable fashion: Reduce (what you own and consume), Rewear, Recycle, Repair, and Resell.
If, after all that, you still need to buy things, be curious and empower yourself to make better choices.
Here are a few other things you can do instead of chasing deals this Black Friday:
- Shop from local fashion brands and support your communities at home.
- At Good On You, we love to recommend some of the best sustainable brands, rated “Good” or “Great”, but we also encourage shopping pre-owned (we love Vestiaire Collective) or having a clothes swap with friends, as other great ways to reduce the impact of your fashion choices.
- Participate in Giving Tuesday instead of Black Friday. Giving Tuesday helps promote charitable acts of giving and to foster a society that is “more gracious” and inspires people to work together and help each other.
- Make sure to choose something from a fashion brand that positively impacts the planet and its inhabitants. You can use the free Good On You app or the directory to check the labour, environment, and animal ratings for over 3,000 fashion brands.
To help you out, here is a selection of brands that recognise the damage of events like Black Friday on conscious consumerism and go out of their way to fight against the tide: