Black Friday: Five ways businesses are promoting sustainable shopping during the frenzy

Black Friday and its tech-savvy sibling Cyber Monday look set to send the retail sphere into a frenzy. But with consumers beginning to align to companies with sustainability credentials, will this year's shopping spree spare a thought for the environment?

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection amongst families over in the US. But what better way to work-off all that turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings than by engaging in an early morning gauntlet through shops and supermarkets.

Black Friday’s (25 November) origins started as the biggest economy’s biggest shopping day. The influence of the day has swept across borders and has even bred Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday in recent years.

According the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million shoppers trawled stores and online sites in 2015 for Black Friday, attempting to find huge discounts on items varying form electronics to pyjamas – which are surprisingly popular purchases during this period.

Incidentally, electronic waste is wreaking havoc on both the environment and the economy. A UNEP report from 2015 found that up to 90% of the global electronic waste produced each year – worth nearly $19bn – is illegally traded or dumped.

Fast fashion seems to be sewing itself to negative environmental impacts, which are also extending into worrying human rights and refugee quandaries. Despite this, clothing will account for a large portion of purchases over the five-day period.

The growth of online shopping is also adding a layer of complexity to concept. Amazon has already been criticised for its packaging waste by celebrity chef-turned-eco-warrior Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but the company is still trying keep its stranglehold on the e-commerce market by working with services like UPS and the U.S. Postal Service to aid with last-minute deliveries. Considering that sites like Amazon and eBay are willing to ship products from the US to India during Black Friday, the price falls are likely to coincide with bigger carbon footprints.

As with most retail aspects, consumer demand will shape incumbent behaviour. Despite workers and consumers wanting to align with companies that can promote sustainability, siince Black Friday’s UK debut – organised by Amazon – in 2010, spending has spiralled to more than £1bn during the events.

Bright Friday

This may suggest that consumers are on-board with the concept, but according to charity Hubbub, the feelings amongst shoppers paint a different story.

A survey conducted by the charity has revealed that two-thirds don’t enjoy Black Friday, with around half feeling “uncomfortable” by the ideate. For those aged under-35, there is actually a social pressure to take part, with 40% revealing that they feel pressured into participating and 50% claiming they buy things they don’t need.

In fact, 45% of the respondents have spent money on items they couldn’t afford due to the sale, while 70% have purchased items they’ve never used since.

With this in mind, the charity has launched the Bright Friday campaign. Located in Brighton, but with plans in place to extend across the UK, Hubbub will host a series of events in the seaside city aimed at “rekindling” the love people have for clothes they already own.

Workshops will be dotted around the streets, highlighting how people can create new outfits without spending money, either through clothes swaps or a free personal styling drop-in sessions with freelance fashion-stylist Emma Slade.

On Bright Friday, independent brands will collaborate to donate 15% of their sales to their chosen charity, Doctors of the World.

Don’t buy this jacket

The UK’s Black Friday is still in its infancy, and it is therefore hard to truly see the impact that businesses can have by promoting heightened consumerism in this way. However, across the pond, many US companies are beginning to boycott the ‘festivities’ altogether.

American outdoor clothing company Patagonia’s efforts to place the environment back onto the voting ballot may have fallen on deaf ears in the US, but it’s commitment to grass-root environmental protection strengthens year-on-year.

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.

This movement has grown over the years, and for 2016, Patagonia will again donate 100% of its global Black Friday sales to organisations working to protect and enhance air, water and soil in local communities.

The company will provide information – both online and instore – to consumers who wish to contact the organisations or even join their cause.

“For decades, Patagonia has demonstrated that caring for our planet is not in conflict with running a successful business,” a blogpost reads. “We are always looking for ways to further reduce our manufacturing footprint, including our company’s reliance on fossil fuels. We also fund grassroots environmental organizations by giving away 1% of our sales. To date that amount totals $74m.”

Opt Outside

As an outdoor equipment company, Black Friday adds a sense of irony to the sales for REI. Selling items ranging from bikes to hiking boots and backpacks, REI’s mission has always been to get its customers to champion the outdoors.

So unless people are using equipment to climb-up shopping malls this Friday, REI has had to introduce a change in tact. Last year, 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” along with REI’s customers.

The campaign, called Opt Outside, runs again this year, and has also been extended to other companies, non-profits and organisations. So, far more than 1.4 million people and 170 organisations have joined the campaign, including Unilever’s Dirt is Good initiative.

REI’s chief executive Jerry Stritzke has previously said: “This year, in particular, I worry about the divisive tone pulling at our nation’s fabric. In my experience, the outdoors is one of the great conveners–able to help people bridge divides. We tend to put aside differences when we are presented with the magnificence of being in nature, no matter our beliefs or allegiances.

“In our increasingly urbanized society, we all need to find time to breathe fresh air and reflect. Spending time outdoors lifts us up. That idea is baked into the way we run REI. It’s one of the reasons we give more than 70% of our profits back to the outdoor community. And I believe our 78-year-old outdoor co-op continues to do well in a tough retail environment thanks to that focus.”

Blue Friday Clean-up

United by Blue is a sustainable outdoor apparel retailer by nature, so it is refreshing to see that it has backed-up its ocean conservation efforts during the US’s biggest shopping spree. The company has a mission to remove one pound of ocean waste for every product that it sells.

This Friday, United by Blue will host a nationwide clean up. “Blue Friday” – as the company calls it – will start on 11am and calls on consumers to aid in a litter picking exercise. The campaign will launch alongside a twitter hashtag so that consumers involved can tweet their progress throughout the day.

The company has now sold out of its free “Blue Friday Cleanup Kit” of branded gloves, shirts and bin bags, but a downloadable safety guide is available on the website offering advice on recycling and waste separation.

United by Blue will also help with the clean-up of its own supplies and facilities in Philadelphia and New York while customers are out cleaning the great outdoors.


Back in the UK, WRAP has provided shoppers with some framework advice to stop the temptation to buy unnecessary and unneeded items. WRAP estimates that UK shoppers buy 1.4m tonnes of electrical products – worth £21bn – each year.

To help buyers, WRAP is calling on them to buy SMART and follow the guideline of; Shortlist, Make a decision, Act, Register and Trade-in.

WRAP’s head of products and services Sarah Clayton said: “SMART buying is all about buying better, sensibly, and sustainably. Keeping a cool head, and our guide in mind, before you even step inside a store, or enter an online shop on Black Friday, should help you make the right buying decisions.”

The guide calls on consumers to know what products they want, including the lifecycle of said product, and not to get diverted from a pre-made list. Once the product has arrived, consumers should check for any similar or older products that could be traded-in.

WRAP recently kick-started phase two of its collaborative, cross-industry plan to bring greater consistency to household waste and recycling collections in England.

Black Friday in numbers

Just in case these tales of changing business decisions weren’t enough to help you truly understand the bizarreness and implications of Black Friday, here are a few maddening facts.

Matt Mace

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