Make Friday Green Again – making Black Friday sustainable
Black Friday has come around again – the annual sales event where retailers offer huge savings during extended opening hours, tempting shoppers to brave the crowds to get the best deals on items they didn’t know they wanted, contributing to throwaway culture and landfill waste.
Now, organisations like Greenpeace and Make Friday Green Again are promoting actions against excessive consumerism, encouraging would-be shoppers to bring communities together and get creative by making, upcycling and repairing, reducing waste. This year, over 300 retailers are also opting out of Black Friday in order to help protect the environment.
The consumer tradition of Black Friday was brought to the UK by Amazon in 2010, after originating in the United States where it takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving – Adbusters magazine, promoters of Buy Nothing Day, defined the day as: “People trampling each other to buy stuff, the day after being thankful for what they have.”
The event seems to be expanding more and more. What started out as a single day of sales now extends across the whole weekend and on into ‘Cyber Monday’, a day of deals specifically from online retailers. In many cases, shops are releasing their Black Friday deals earlier and earlier – some as early as the beginning of November.
With the rise of online shopping – 18 per cent of all retail sales in the UK are now made online – more items require packaging and shipping. A recent report by DS Smith revealed that 60 per cent of e-commerce deliveries contain packaging that is either one quarter air or uses hard-to-recycle polystyrene and plastic fillers to fill up space. This means bigger boxes and therefore more delivery vans on the road.
These shopping events are embraced by many as a way to save money in the run-up to Christmas but can also lead to excessive purchasing of unnecessary items. These most frequently include clothes and electrical products that are available at a huge discount – new research from Green Alliance showed that more than half of shoppers today will buy electronic goods and a third will buy clothes, with up to 80 per cent of all items set to end up in landfill, incineration or low-quality recycling after a very short lifespan.
In August, a survey of 5,000 UK householders revealed that 75 per cent of respondents preferred to discard their broken appliances and replace them with new models, rather than recycle or sell on their devices. The survey indicated that many people are unsure of where to take electrical items to be repaired – perhaps this lack of knowledge is contributing to the 1.4 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) thrown away in the UK each year.
With insistent advertisement and the temptation of bargain prices offered by Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, it’s unsurprising that consumers continue to buy more and more electrical goods, rather than spending time and money on repairs.
“We don’t buy what we need – we buy because we are tempted”
However, over the past couple of years, organisations have been promoting the avoidance of Black Friday and the consumerist excess it instigates, suggesting more sustainable alternatives as a way to both save money and encourage community connections.
In 2016, environmental charity Hubbub launched #BrightFriday, a campaign designed to ease the pressure on people to spend beyond their means and do something that they enjoy instead, encouraging them to pledge what they are doing instead of taking part in Black Friday sales. Including an online platform full of ideas on what to do as an alternative, the campaign was supported by public figures such as Green MP Caroline Lucas and fashion designer Christopher Raeburn.
Last year, Greenmatch ran an article and infographic encouraging shoppers to make Black Friday as eco friendly as possible by carrying out actions such as bringing their own shopping bags, supporting small and local businesses rather than big chains, and making online orders in one transaction to reduce shipping and packaging.
The article also suggested writing a shopping list first to avoid impulse buys – according to stats from Finder, 21 per cent of Brits purchased something on Black Friday or Cyber Monday last year that they later regretted. £362 million worth of items were returned to shops after the event.
Buy Nothing Day is an international day of protest against consumerism held on Black Friday. Founded by Canadian artist and activist, Ted Dave, in 1992, events and creative actions now happen across 65 countries to raise awareness of excessive purchasing and waste it contributes to.
Promoted by Adbusters magazine, the movement has sparked events such as credit card cut-ups, clothing swaps, and zombie walks, where participants dress up as the living dead to highlight how big companies brainwash us into thinking we need to keep spending money to be happy.
Greenpeace also launched a campaign to disrupt Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Estimating that consumption represents 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, ‘Make Smthing’ was an international series of events designed to bring communities together and encourage participants to upcycle, fix and create new things from recycled materials.
Make Smthing is being refreshed this year, with events running across the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe, including a sustainable Christmas wreath-making workshop in London and a Repair Cafe in Pontypridd.
This year, over 300 retailers are choosing not to participate in Black Friday deals. Consisting mostly of French brands, the shops linking up with The Make Friday Green Again collective aim to discourage people from buying things they don’t need just because they are cheap.
Nicolas Rohr Co-founder of Faguo, the sustainable clothing brand behind Make Friday Green Again, said: “When people buy something, we pollute because of the carbon emissions that come from making that product, from using it and then getting rid of that product.
“Today we don’t buy what we need – we buy because we are tempted. We are not in a good relationship with consumption any more.”
However, while some retailers are fully opting out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday for environmental reasons, other companies appear to be discouraging consumerism but are in fact just offering their own discounts outside of the designated days.
In 2015 Asda stated it would no longer be taking part in Black Friday and for the past couple of years it rolled out its somewhat misleading promotion “Green is the New Black,” a series of discounts throughout November that had nothing to do with discouraging over-consumption on Black Friday, and everything to do with raising profits in the lead-up to Christmas.
While it may not be possible for everyone to simply boycott all purchases in the run up to Christmas, there are ways to be more mindful of the environmental impact our shopping may have and still partake in the season of goodwill.
As George Monbiot said: “Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for God's sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don't.”