The Black Friday obsession in a green economy

Kätlin Hirs
November 22, 2022

When a day is preceded by the word “black”, it usually indicates that it was a bad one. Although similar connotations were once present in the origins of “Black Friday”, merchants in the U.S. successfully started to spread another narrative in the 1980s. They managed to switch the underlying message into something to look forward to. 

Getting a good deal on your purchases should not be frowned upon. Moreover, saving up or choosing wisely when and what to buy to cover one’s needs is simply reasonable. Yet massive sales campaigns, such as the ones promoted during Black Friday, can lead to overconsumption and impulsive buying. This behavior shows the refusal to acknowledge that natural resources are limited. 

However, countermovements such as Green Friday promote mindful shopping and environmental appreciation. In this article, we’ll dive into the impact of both movements and highlight the consequences they bring along. 

Your brain is easily tricked by flashy discounts

Businesses use a variety of different strategies to manipulate their prices and also choose the products that end up as the main deals very wisely. Flaunting off-brand or lower quality versions of desired products, strategic product placement in retail stores, and very limited time or quantity offers are just a few of many often combined ways to trap customers and trick them into buying more than they actually need. 

Whether people shop for need or pleasure, the activity itself has been proven to affect areas of our brain which generally lead to the sensation of positive feelings. Adding a fear of missing out and plain reasoning of not letting opportunities go to waste, it can be very easy to get stuck in the overwhelming amount of offers. 

The need to consume makes people capable of killing

When the special deals were still limited to one single day, disturbances caused by massive crowds storming the stores frequently reached the headlines. There is even an entire webpage dedicated to the physical injuries and death cases linked to Black Friday. Statistically, these are small numbers, but the fact that the need to consume makes people capable of killing stresses the power of the seemingly trivial desire. 

Ever since Cyber Monday offerings started to compete with the deals in stores, Black Friday campaigns have become available earlier, moved online, and have increasingly extended to almost the entire month of November. 

The global pandemic created a general shift towards online shopping — a habit that came to stay. Although that might give hope for smaller crowds in stores, the overall consumption craze, especially during extreme sales, is on a steady rise. In the U.S. alone, Black Friday sales increased by 32% between 2019 and 2020 and continue to grow. 

Source: https://www.nbcnews.com/select/shopping/evolution-black-friday-ncna1278024

It is an extreme luxury to shop from the comfort of your home, but it comes with a very high cost for our planet. The Los Angeles based Happy Returns has said that people return up to 15–40% of their online purchases in comparison to the 5–10% of returns for those made in physical stores. This means we can at least triple the size of the footprint left by transport if we decide to send the items back. In addition to the unnecessary CO₂ emissions, there’s also the unnerving issue of packaging waste. For example, a study carried out in South Korea found that “e-commerce generates approximately 4.8 times more packaging waste than offline brick-and-mortar stores”. 

Can green become the new black?

In recent years, companies and organizations that prioritize the well-being of the planet and its people, have sought to support various alternative movements to halt compulsive buying.

Some of these include:

  • Buy Nothing Day
  • Green Friday
  • Giving Tuesday
  • Small Business Saturday
  • Circular Monday

Buy Nothing Day emerged as a day of protest to buy nothing for 24 hours already in the early 1990s. Doing nothing is the easiest way to make an impact on that day. As the slogan goes: “Recycling is good – reducing is better!”

Green Friday takes the same attitude and expands it to a broader conscious consumer movement. The day aims to educate people on the steps they can take to strive towards a circular economy and how to consume responsibly. Moreover, the movement strives to reconnect people and communities to invest in each other, nature, and generally beneficial causes, including charities as well as projects that aim to create fundamental change in economies. 

Several businesses have decided to protest large sales campaigns like Black Friday by closing their stores (including online shops) or selling at higher prices instead and donating the profits. Sustainability is a crucial part of their daily business model. If you walk the walk daily, educating your customers on the topic comes naturally. 

For example, the Swedish outdoor equipment brand Haglöfs never plans to take part in events such as Black Friday as they describe their reasons and reflect on the dangers of systematic discounting on their blog. Likewise, the clothing company ASKET has previously closed its shops and focused on educating its followers on the environmental problems caused by the fashion industry. As an anti-Black Friday campaign for the second year running, they will remove all new items from one of their stores and sell only pre-owned ASKET items

Created in 2012, GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement that encourages people to do good. It has grown into a year-round undertaking that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity. Whether it's food, a donation, or volunteering your time, everyone can join the movement. Browse the GivingTuesday website to find what opportunities have already been created in your country or region. 

One way of still getting some necessary shopping done, but not following the craze of Black Friday, is to take your money to small local businesses instead. This was largely the idea behind Small Business Saturday. Taking place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the day was created by American Express in 2010 to encourage people to bring more holiday shopping to small businesses.

Shifting to conscious consumerism

It is not the one day that is problematic, but the general attitude toward consumption. While deciding not to buy anything is definitely better for the planet than splurging at every shop in sight, keeping a sustainable mindset on a daily basis is crucial for change to occur. 

The impact of a purchase doesn’t stop at  spending money and using the product. There’s a whole process that takes a product from the raw material stage to being displayed on shelves and, no less importantly, what happens to it after it comes to the end of its useful life. 

Examples of joint governmental actions towards finding remedies to the issues around packaging waste or studies on the individual power of conscious choices give hope to believe that living in a circular economy might change from a dream to a reality sooner than later. Efforts such as Circular Monday have become global advocates for promoting selling, renting, sharing, and repairing products made out of recycled materials, including second-hand services.   

Conscious consumerism (also known as ethical consumerism or green consumerism) is a trend that grows more and more popular by the day. By eliminating impulse buys and opting for companies and products that create a positive impact, consumers communicate a preference for better-for-the-world businesses and products.

Key takeaway – our planet’s resources are limited. Humans are already consuming 1.75x more than the Earth can sustain. As Black Friday approaches again, remember that mindful shopping today leads to a greener tomorrow.   

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