Black Friday – once a day of discounts, now a sales phenomenon persuading us to buy new things we neither want nor need, at increasingly bigger discounts year on year. While it offers buyers incredible savings, it’s no surprise that the environmental costs of this unchecked consumption are shamefully high. To put this into perspective, according to one study up to 80% of all Black Friday purchases, including their packaging, will end up either in landfill, incineration, or, at best, in poor quality recycling. We’re all familiar with the narrative that paints consumers as the ones to blame here, but what about the businesses running these sales? It’s time to call them out. If corporations want to prove they are committed to environment, social and governance (ESG) goals, they must take a seat at that table and assume responsibility for this excessive event.

Black Friday vs Mother Nature

Black Friday weekend demands enormous overproduction of products to satisfy this very short-lived hunger for goods. A third of those purchases are returned and, according to Forbes, around 1 out of 4 returns are subsequently thrown away by retailers. Forbes therefore call this the ‘National throw-away day’. By satisfying consumer-led short-term demand, businesses are also losing out. 

Our increasing concern for the planet is largely contradicted by this rampant consumerism and short-term ownership of products, but consumer behaviour is changing. So, the financial strain brought by the pandemic cannot alone be accredited with the considerable downward trend of participation since 2019. Green thinking has become more than just a trend; it is becoming a major influence on buying decisions.

Conscious consumption describes the focus on using one’s purchasing power to mitigate the negative impact of consumerism on the environment. A ‘good’ product is no longer enough to acquire customers and stay competitive. They long for more; an alignment of values and deeper engagement with the brand. According to recent studies, 1 in 3 consumers are looking to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. This year for Black Friday, 1 in 2 consumers will prioritise buying from brands that communicate their green efforts. The irony here is, if businesses want to capture people’s attention, particularly younger generations, generating brand loyalty and ultimately, sales they must get on board with conscious consumption. However, individual conscience alone is simply not enough, as Brits are still predicted to spend almost £9.5 billion over the Black Friday weekend. 

Who is to blame?

So, why aren’t we blaming the businesses? After all, while consumption may be driven by high demand, that demand is only exploited due to the supplier’s discounted, low-price offerings. Businesses need to assume their responsibility as suppliers, trend setters, and thought leaders in this matter. Black Friday could be a great opportunity to raise awareness about the environmental toll of over-consumption. Take IKEA for example, who have opted for a ‘Green’ rather than ‘Black’ Friday, using the event as an opportunity to raise awareness for sustainable shopping. While this tactic could be critiqued as a form of green washing, this brand is certainty trying to pivot the conversation back towards conscious consumption, and on a global scale. These kinds of environmentally conscious strategies are already increasingly vital in showing the stability of a business, with a strong single bottom line having been replaced by a strong triple bottom line.

A recent survey by the British Independent Retailers Association found that 85% of affiliated retailers are boycotting Black Friday. Whilst this indicates that change is taking place on a smaller scale, it is the bigger businesses – those with the majority of the marketing spend, stock, and customers – that need to do more. Consider the likes of Amazon and Ebay.

Allbirds serves as an excellent and rare example as to how renowned retailers can use their platform to promote awareness and take on that responsibility. With their campaign Break Tradition, Not The Planet, they are looking to raise their prices on Black Friday by £1 which will be matched 100% by them and then donated to ‘Mother Nature’.

But what about the benefits of Black Friday

We also do have to appreciate that there are undeniable benefits to Black Friday as well. A period of big discounts makes expensive products more accessible to more people. Retailers get to sell off old stock, rather than throwing it out. Sales are boosted, benefitting small business, particularly after a significant period of losses due to lockdowns. Black Friday also levels the playing field for smaller vendors, as the focus is diverted from the brands themselves, to the best saving deals.

So, what is the alternative then?

Rather than viewing this matter as a black-or-white situation, where the only two options are either participating in Black Friday or not, there is another alternative that will address environmental concerns, without losing the benefits of Black Friday. Retailers could offer discounts over a longer period leading up to the holidays. This way, the pressure on consumers to indulge in overconsumption would be cut, while still offering the needed discounts. Businesses would not be forced into overproduction or having to deal with massive amounts of returns, and the environmental costs would be significantly reduced. Yet, on the flip side, prolonged discount periods could ultimately depress brand, sales and profit.

If we are serious about decreasing our individual impact on the planet we must reflect on how, when, and where we spend our money. And, crucially, businesses must operate in a manner that supports this. At Elixirr, we’re committed to embedding sustainability at the heart of all our solutions. Connect with us to find out how we could help solve your toughest challenge in this space.