Black Friday: An ideal selling point for sustainability-conscious retailers?

Black Friday, which has since birthed its tech-savvy offspring Cyber Monday, is upon us again, but while retailers attend to whip up a frenzy to boost sales some companies are using the commercial event to highlight their commitments to sustainability.

Today (24 November) marks Black Friday, the biggest shopping day for the world’s biggest economy. Citizens head out to the streets to engage in an early morning gauntlet through shops and supermarkets, having seemingly used up all their thanks and giving the week before.

Up to 30% of annual retail sales are generated between Black Friday and Christmas and according to the US National Retail Federation, average spend is increasing by 2.5% annually. In the US, $626.1bn was spent in the “holiday season” period. Here in the UK, sales reached £4bn over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.

The idea behind Black Friday is a complete contrast to needs to reel-in resource consumption in a world that is having its planetary boundaries stretched to the limit. Plastics are discarded to plague the oceans, fast fashion is creating supply chains thriving with human rights abuses and a growth in disposable income in some nations is creating waste mountains of toxic electronics.

The majority of companies will recite the “spend, spend, spend” mantra to consumers this weekend, but some are using it standout from the crowd, swim against the tide, and attempt to create a sense of environmental stewardship against a backdrop of material gluttony.

The way is shut

Last year, edie highlighted how outdoor equipment company REI closed all of its 149 stores in the US during Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Employees were given paid time off and were encouraged to “enjoy the great outdoors”. This year, numerous other brands including GameStop, DSW Shoe Warehouse and Costco are likely to implement similar measurements.

For a company to close its doors during arguably its busiest period may not necessarily be a direct attempt to champion the environment, but it does promote wellbeing amongst staff, an important aspect of most CSR strategies.

Grassroot sales

Unlike REI, Patagonia largely remains open on Black Friday. The American clothing firm is a prime example of a company that has successfully championed environmental awareness to its consumers. Despite remaining open last year, Patagonia did raise $10m for environmental grassroot non-profits, after donating 100% of the global sales that it generated from Black Friday.

Patagonia had expected to raise around $2m for organisations working to protect and enhance air, water and soil in local communities. However, the company revealed last year’s sales had surpassed that target five times over. In 2011, the company placed a full-page ad in The New York Times calling on people to buy less of everything – including its own products – in order to protect the environment.

DoneGood at a click

The conception of Cyber Monday was built on the growing number of people who have turned to online shopping to hunt for deals. A new tech start-up has moved to embrace this trend, but in a way that doesn’t neglect its desire to act as a sustainable and ethically-orientated alternative to mainstream online shopping platform.

DoneGood, a certified B Corp, has recently launched a new site that lets shoppers browse items that contribute to society or are combatting climate change. Search labels mean you can browse for eco-friendly products, products made by women-owned businesses or items that empower rural workers in developing countries.

Swap shop movement

The UK market for Black Friday is understandably smaller than its US counterpart, and therefore sustainable alternatives could be hard to come across. However, this Friday, environmental charity Hubbub is relaunching its #BrightFriday “wardrobe revolution”.

The charity is hosting numerous swap shop events, enabling people to spruce up their outfits without “breaking the bank or the planet”. A similar movement is being pushed by Brooklyn-based fashion retailers Ace & Jig. The firm’s #TakingBackBlackFriday clothes swap campaign recently caught the eye of Vogue.

Fur Free Friday

On the subject of fashion, Black Friday also happens to mark international “Fur Free Friday”. A campaign has been launched by Animal Defenders International (ADI) to put an end to the cruelty of the fur trade.

Every year, more than 110 million animals are killed on fur farms, and while the UK banned fur farming more than 15 years ago it still remains a major player in the market, with garment exports reaching €25m annually. ADI is partnering with comedians such as Sara Pascoe and actors like Peter Egan to drive awareness on the busiest shopping day of the year.

Buy Nothing New

Last year, £436m was saved on essential household goods by people in low-income households by using reused furniture, while almost 3.5 million furniture and electrical items were reused in the UK. To mark Black Friday, the Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) are launching a Buy Nothing New Day to celebrate.

The event provides a shopping alternative for those who want to purchase second hand and reuse items and buyers can also donate items to charities as well. The event will also boost employment and volunteering opportunities in local communities.

Matt Mace

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