The most important shopping weekend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is looming on the horizon. While it's a relatively new phenomenon in the UK introduced by Amazon in 2010, the country was estimated to spend £7.5 billion in a single weekend last year. And the craze hasn’t even reached its peak yet.
What is stark is that Black Friday this year arrives right after the COP26 conference in Glasgow has concluded with grand and ambitious promises on how to limit global warming to 1.5C. These promises seem a lot less realistic to us as we see corporations actively promoting overconsumption during Black Friday sales, which result in a spike of CO2 and waste sent to landfills.
IMPORTANT QUESTION: ARE BLACK FRIDAY SALES BAD FOR THE PLANET?
Despite the appeal of buying discounted Christmas presents, we are all too familiar with chaotic images from department stores and stories of people getting physically injured in an attempt to seize the most discounted gadget.
So while you might feel like you have snagged a deal, guess who pays the real price?
How are Black Friday sales bad for the environment
Black Friday and Cyber Monday promote mindless consumption, excessive packaging and shipping waste, especially with the rise of online shopping. The sales produce massive waste not just from the unwanted single-use plastic and cardboard packaging, but also from the return of unwanted items. This mindset also ensures that the earth overshoot day keeps moving back.
This is especially true of the clothing industry, where much of the online returns are tossed into the landfill because the logistics and cost of putting the item back on the shelf are much too complicated. Brittons throw away approximately 300,000 tonnes of clothes every year and many of them are only worn a handful of times. We have all received an extra pair of Christmas pyjamas without a gift receipt that go straight in the ”return pile”(aka I will forget about it and throw it in the landfill bin with my eyes closed). Instead of buying gifts for the sake of buying, why not opt-out for gifting experiences instead? Stumped for ideas? Check out our Christmas guide here.
The negative impact of Black Friday is also significant from non-recyclable, mostly plastic toys, to e-waste, to fast fashion that is only used for one season. In fact, in France, the government is considering banning Black Friday due to the impact on the planet and the promotion of unsustainable consumption habits.
The social impact of Black Friday sales
Black Friday also puts a strain on retail workers who are not able to stay at home and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, a US tradition as well, with their families. Factory workers, working behind the scenes, are already majorly underpaid below the minimum wage by most fast fashion brands and fast homeware brands. What is fast homeware you ask? The term was first coined by Refinery29 and, refers to furniture and accessories that are cheaply made and are driven by trends and high turnover rates. Dejavu much. Similar to fast fashion, the rise in home remodelling is driving the homeware industry to create high turnover lines that are not made to last. And now factory workers have to work longer hours to meet unrealistic homeware and fashion stock demands. So if your trendy new coffee table costs you £20, consider what the factory worker gets paid for their labour.
Black Friday vs. Small Businesses
Small businesses are particularly at risk by major brands and retailers engaging in price wars and undercutting the competition. They are simply not able to match the ginormous advertising budgets or lower their prices to the same level while remaining profitable. In our experience, small businesses often have more ethical values to begin with, which do not align with overconsumption and irresponsible production in the first place.
Ethical Brands are Driving Change
Some ethical brands are pushing for change by refusing to participate in the Black Friday sales. Some of our favourites:
Patagonia is known for promoting conscious consumption with their ‘Don’t buy this Jacket’ campaign that draws attention to the waste produced by the clothing industry and fast fashion.
Deciem skincare brand has taken the boycott further with their "BYE-BYE BLACK FRIDAY" campaign. The brand is planning to shut down all physical and e-commerce stores for the day to reduce the impact of the sales period on the planet.
Spruce, your ethical cleaning brand, is also taking a stand against the mindless consumption that Black Friday represents. One of our main goals is to prevent mindless consumption. We want to promote responsible production, and while we will offer incentives for good causes throughout the year, we will not be participating in the Black Friday sales.
However, despite all the ills, we do feel that boycotting Black Friday, fast fashion or any sales event is a matter of privilege. Let’s not forget, most of us cannot afford items such as clothing, furniture, electronics at their full retail price. The solution? Plan and only buy what you absolutely need, buy products with longer life spans and support small, ethical businesses when you can.
Words by Sofya Zakharova
Images by Aaron Weiss