What does the green recovery mean for Black Friday?

After a month of lockdown restrictions, many UK retailers are looking forward to Black Friday to boost profits. But with consumers increasingly prioritising purpose and sustainability, and with the green recovery movement gaining traction, what will the sales event look like in 2020 and beyond?

What does the green recovery mean for Black Friday?

Black Friday is usually seen as the antithesis of sustainability 

While the holiday was originally intended as a time for American workers to spend with loved ones over Thanksgiving, Black Friday has grown to become a global phenomenon and is most associated with frenzied buying. UK retailers typically expect to make 30% of their sales between Black Friday and Christmas Day and PwC claims that more than £7.8bn of sales were made on Black Friday 2019.

But the event looks very different this year. With the UK’s national lockdown not set to lift until 2 December, and with the nation grappling with the biggest recession since World War Two, sales forecasts have been adjusted considerably.

PwC had expected Black Friday sending to grow to £8.4bn and for 51% of UK adults to make a purchase. Now, it expects sales to fall 20% to £6.2bn, and for only one-third of people to shop.

Typically, the sustainability debate around Black Friday is simple; brands need to make a profit, but what can they do to prevent overconsumption and waste?

For 2020, the conversation is somewhat different, given that many retailers are counting on strong sales to survive. While business insolvencies have been lower this year than in 2019, some 125,000 retail jobs had been lost by September. Boris Johnson’s answer to the drop in sales caused by the first lockdown was to implore individuals to “shop for Britain” – despite the fact that many had faced pay cuts or redundancy.

It is, therefore, fair to argue that Black Friday 2020 will not be truly “green”. A select number of businesses are using the occasion to champion resource efficiency, social sustainability and environmental conservation (and edie will highlight some of these initiatives below), but most are prioritising survival.

Black Friday 2021, however, could look very different. The green recovery movement has grown rapidly in the UK and beyond, with governments including the UK’s committing to ‘build back better’ and to prioritise sectors that are low-carbon, resource-efficient or conserve nature.

That said, the policy focus does seem to be more on carbon emissions and less on resources at present. Meetings on the Resources and Waste Strategy, due to take place in 2020, have been shelved for 2021. MPs are making recommendations about tackling waste from sectors like electronics and fashion, but Ministers are spinning plates including Brexit, Covid-19 and COP26.

Businesses could, therefore, take the lead. August saw the chief executives of businesses which collectively employ more than half a million people and record annual revenues of more than $100bn signing an open letter declaring that post-Covid-19 leadership will be all about purpose. And surveys have repeatedly revealed that consumers are looking for brands with strong sustainability credentials and a purpose which helps society and/or the environment.

The appetite for purpose-led business with sustainability at its core, and for watertight policymaking ahead of COP26, is clear. The question now is whether ambitions will be high enough and actions rapid and wide-reaching enough to drive change at scale.  

In the meantime, many brands are taking the lead by reimagining Black Friday to prioritise people and planet over short-term profit. Here, edie highlights a few of these innovative approaches.

Rockay offsets shipping emissions

Following in the footsteps of firms like Etsy, Danish performance wear brand has committed to offset all emissions generated by the shipping of products sold on Black Friday week.

It is using Carbon Credit Capital to purchase verified credits and will allocate them all to an organic waste composting project in Alabama, which takes degraded soil that is emitting carbon and restores it, meaning it can sequester carbon and better grow plants once again.

Customers will also receive products designed to reduce their plastic consumption, or goods made using recycled plastics, with their orders over $20.

AllBirds raises prices to raise donations

Last Black Friday, Allbirds stopped selling products at all stores and turned them into workshop venues.

With stores in the UK closed this year, the brand is increasing prices across its collection by £1. The extra money will go to youth-led climate movement Fridays For Future and Allbirds will match funds raised.

Allbirds also hopes the decision not to offer a discount will discourage people from impulse-buying and overconsumption.

Vivo Life donates 10% of revenue to eco-charities

Health and fitness brand Vivo Life has created an extensive ‘green Friday’ package for 2020. It will plant 10 trees for every order placed online and will invite shoppers to take part, virtually, in a remote litter picking session in their local areas, in partnership with running app Strava.

Shoppers will also receive a free sustainability guide and a 15% discount, while Vivo Life will donate 10% of revenue to charities. It has selected rainforest charity Cool Earth; wildlife conservation charity Born Free, and Help Refugees to receive a share.

Last year, Vivo Life was able to plant 33,000 trees and donate £20,000 to charity through its green Friday work. It is hoping for a larger impact in 2020.

SMEs ask us to shop ethically  

SMEs often have a smaller environmental footprint than large corporates and many have sustainability built-in to their purpose and business models from the start. While the pandemic has prompted many to shop more locally and from smaller firms, many believe that more must be done.

Ethical Hour is, therefore, running a social media campaign to highlight small businesses with ethics and sustainability at their heart. The campaign includes an online marketplace, digital advent calendar recommending ethical and sustainable products and a social media challenge to help small business owners tell their story and showcase their products. It will run until Christmas Eve on the #ShopEthicalInstead tag.

Last year, the campaign reached almost half a million people.

Birdsong offers discounts for those spreading the sustainable fashion message

London-based fashion brand Birdsong won awards for its ‘Transparent Friday’ campaign last year, which educated shoppers about the costs associated with making a sustainable and ethical government. Each year, it shares how much revenue is made and how its CEO is paid.

This year, Birdsong is giving customers a 20% discount – so long as they “share its mission” on social media or with friends. Issues championed by Birdsong include the living wage; putting people and planet before profit; transparency and providing employment and skills to disadvantaged communities. Birdsong is also giving shoppers the option to tip its makers.

OVO helps Brits reconnect with nature

Energy provider OVO made headlines last year with its plans to reach net-zero by 2030 and to engage consumers on a mission to ‘fight the climate crisis’.

For Black Friday, it is giving new members a £50 gift card for the National Trust, rather than a discount. The idea is to help people connect with nature.

The company has also published a blog outlining how online shopping on Black Friday will result in more than 429,000 tonnes of CO21 – and the actions people can take to choose sustainable gifts or avoid purchasing things they do not need.


Ella’s Kitchen earmarks profits for trees

In the same week that it announced a 2030 net-zero target and committed to developing science-based targets for emissions across all scopes, baby food brand and B-Corp Ella’s Kitchen has confirmed plans to donate to Trees for Life.

The charity, which delivers rewilding projects in the Scottish Highlands, will receive all profits that Ella’s Kitchen makes from online sales between 27 November and 30 November.

Mission Possible: Achieving a green recovery for retail

edie’s Mission Possible campaign has evolved to focus on the green recovery, with a new series of reports outlining the challenges that businesses in key sectors face in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, and the opportunities that the green recovery will bring. 

The Retail edition of the report is out NOW. Created in partnership with Reconomy, the report provides expert insight from some of the UK’s major retailers and features exclusive results from edie’s survey of 243 sustainability and energy professionals. 

Additionally, viewpoints from Reconomy and the British Retail Consortium help set the tone as to why businesses can be optimistic when approaching the green recovery.

Download the report for free here.

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    It comes down to a simple principle:

    Don’t buy stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have

    So unless you really need a new fridge, TV, phone, dress, suit, shoes (and I mean really really need, like they are broken or worn out) don’t get caught up in the whole Black Friday hype. It is just a marketing scam to get your hard earned cash.

    The Green Recovery is not about sales and constant growth. We can not continue the consumer driven, infinite growth model when we live on a finite planet. Black Friday has nothing to do with sustainable or Green it is purely money driven.

  2. Ian Byrne says:

    Can someone explain to me how the Ella’s food pouch contributes to sustainability? I accept that it’s difficult if that’s what the competition are ding too, but could we educate the public away from such packaging?

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