Published at 2019, November 22th
Does Black Friday harm the environment? How can Black Friday be more ecological? Is Black Friday only about shopping or did it use to have some other meaning
When Culture Is Just About Entertainment
Cultures are changing – with all the pros and cons that come along with our increasingly globalized society. And while in some places traditions are being lost, others get to be re-invented or replaced by new ones.
This is in any case what’s happening with the American Black Friday that’s now the best time for shopping discounts a bit all over the world. But also with the Brazilian Carnival celebrated in cold places with little and Summer clothes or with the cultural appropriation of the Indian Holi Festival to Colour Runs all over the world, often not considering and sometimes disrespecting its deeper, more divine side.
We can see them, read about them, hear them, smell the outcomes of these traditions. However, it is not so common these days that we question how these traditions have started, who started them or what they truly mean. In this way, without minding much with what we’ve inherited from our ancestors and why, we often naively jump into these traditions and play an active part in them.
Perhaps it’s precisely because we’ve lost track of why we do what we do that our societies and the environment are going through such hard times. Perhaps if we knew the whole story, we wouldn’t get seduced by consumer offers that try to help us get some kind of meaning for something that’s way more historical and human than shopping material goods driven by the promise of once in a lifetime deals. All over the world, this seems to be the case with Black Friday.
Black Friday: How It All Started
The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied to the financial crisis of the crash of the United States’ stock market in 1869. However, the Black Friday we hear of today, rather than symbolizing this market crisis, is usually about sales and therefore, there’s a different story to be told.
In fact, History says that the term was coined by the Philadelphia police who could not take the Friday after Thanksgiving off and enjoy the long weekend. Because of the Navy-Army football game that took place in Philadelphia on this same Saturday after Thanksgiving every year, suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance. This meant the police had to do extra-long shifts to deal with additional crowds, traffic, and shoplifters.
Another story that’s told is that shops and sellers used to write their finances with a red pen when they were in debt or with a black pen when they had some equity. When this day came and people bought more than usual, accountability sheets would go black as sales increased.
Bank Cards Ready, To The Shopping Mall, Go: Black Friday Today
In any case, even if you weren’t aware of the Philadelphia story, huge discounts that attract many buyers to huge queues outside shops and malls are taking places a bit everywhere and are hardly something new.
The truth is that Black Friday and the weekend that follows mark the start of the shopping season for Christmas for many people. Great deals whose marketing is nearly impossible to miss end up creating a call to action and a sense of urgency that makes consumers buy by impulse things they don’t necessarily need.
Nowadays, besides the Black Friday, there’s even the Cyber Monday. Thanks to tech developments and online sales, the Monday that follows Thanksgiving is now synonym with exclusive online deals and discounts from the largest tech retailers.
The Black Friday Is Seductive. But It’s Harming The Environment
For those who don’t have much purchasing power, and even for those who have it, being able to buy something they truly need at a discounted price is obviously a benefit. The problem doesn’t necessarily lie here – rather, it’s the mass consumption of unnecessary and/or unethical goods that need to be addressed.
Clothes from fast-fashion retailers that don’t last and whose industry is very polluting. Plastic toys in a time where it’s negative effects appear to have no end. Or electronic devices people don’t need that quickly end up contributing to huge amounts of e-waste that is not recycled and pollutes the environment and can potentially intoxicate the people living close to places where it gets disposed of.
These are some of the most sold products during this season: and as we’ve just briefly seen, they came at a cost. In the end, consumers, by their act of buying, send the message to retailers (who send it to transformers, producers, and extractors), that they’ll need to sell more, transform more…
Another issue has to do with online sales. Getting deliveries to arrive straight home at low (or even free) costs is surely a nice commodity. And that’s probably one of the reasons why consumers are increasingly adopting online shopping habits. Nonetheless, as suppliers favor speed over efficiency when they make deliveries (due, among other reasons, to less loaded trucks covering less optimized routes), this often ain’t an eco-friendly idea. In fact, the University of California found that two-day shopping means a larger carbon footprint compared to slower options shipped over a week.
What You Can Do About It: From Black Friday To Green Friday
Consume less and take only what you really need. Easy, right? Not only during the Black Friday season but throughout the year. And if you need some inspiration on how less can mean more, take a look at the minimalism movement and check if it resonates with you. Go for experiences over products, and if you go to some store, try to carpool or go by public transport.
Moreover, if you’re buying online, be patient and say “no thank you” to the quick, environment-harming, deliveries. And if you can, try to buy second-hand products (that when made at a large scale mean less extraction as things get to be reused). Buying upcycled or recycled products is also a good green idea, as well as buying from sustainable sources with certifications that proving it: from FSC to Fairtrade or RSPO (there’s a whole world of certifications and labels to be discovered).
And at the same time, why not letting stores and brands know you’re more interested in quality and long-lasting products than in explosive discounts? Or in having a discount per year you can activate whenever you need it the most so you can do a more weighted decision? Relationships go both ways and even if you’re not really asked: spam customer support emails and share your concerns with the brands you identify the most with.
Patagonia, for instance, donates all its Friday profits to grassroots working on environmental protection. REI closes its doors and encourages employees and customers to enjoy the day outdoors in nature. And there are surely so many different approaches that can be developed and implemented. And as marketing tries to get consumers to desperately buy, it’s important each person answers them asking for more conscious and responsible behaviors.
The Need To Rescue The Human Side Of Traditions
Not so long ago, when shopping was more decentralized and online sales weren’t around, traditions had a different kind of meaning. Face to face sales, interacting with local street vendors, small sellers, and other shoppers, often in outdoor environments, brought a feeling of connection, community and belonging.
Nowadays, online sales mean the only possible interaction shoppers can have is with the mail delivery officer. And even when people actually go shopping, it’s a crazy environment where everyone is full of adrenaline and in a rush to get some product before it goes out of stock. Not that much of a sense of connection and interaction, hence.
Even other traditions like the Oktober Fest, originally from Munich, Bavaria, had a strong connection not only among people but also with the natural world. There used to be tree climbing contests and horse races (horses still go around the city though, together with locals using old clothes) but in many other locations where the Festival is replicated, it’s only about drinking craft beers and conversations in small circles.
In the end, it’s easy to lose track of what traditions used to mean: not only time for shopping but also to interact, get together and meet new people, many times outdoors. Ultimately, as Simon Sinek puts it, the feeling of a new “material toy” only brings a short-term sense of joy, opposed to the long-lasting feeling of connection and the fulfillment it brings along.