Black Friday started in the USA. The day after Thanksgiving, at the end of November, retailers offer huge discounts on their products to sell their remaining stock before the Christmas season. The shopping holiday has since spread around the world and the introduction of Cyber Monday has turned the one-day sale into a whole weekend, with some retailers extending their sales for a week or even for the whole of November.  

These heavily discounted products may lead to billions of dollars in revenue, but the sales extravaganza also has negative environmental impacts, thanks to increased carbon emissions and masses of waste. Here’s why Black Friday is bad for the environment, and how you can shop in a more sustainable way.

What’s the environmental impact of Black Friday? 

During the last few years, shopping has mostly shifted online because of Covid. Online shopping can lead to higher emissions than shopping in stores, due to the energy needed to run warehouses and emissions from home delivery. Last year, UK deliveries from Black Friday sales were estimated to release over 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, around 0.12% of the UK’s total annual emissions. Throughout the year, shipping and deliveries of online orders account for up to 4% of the world’s emissions, and the majority of this comes from the Black Friday and Christmas shopping periods. 

It’s not just the increased number of deliveries that are responsible for the rise in emissions, as the whole life cycle of the product needs to be considered. This includes manufacturing, packaging, shipping, waste and end use of the products. 

Waste is a big issue, especially around Black Friday, as large discounts and cheap products convince people to buy items they don’t need, just for the sake of it. Around 80% of items bought on Black Friday are thrown away after a few uses, some without being used at all.  In the U.S. waste increases by 25% between Black Friday and the New Year. While the majority of this waste comes from packaging, some of it is due to unused items that were bought because of the allure of cheap products.  

Many products that aren’t thrown away are often returned to the company, but this doesn’t mean they will be put back on sale, especially if businesses were clearing stock to make way for Christmas items. This then leads to more waste, as these returned products end up in landfill. 

Black Friday and the cost-of-living crisis 

Cost of living and energy crisis

This year, people have been hit by rising costs in both energy and everyday supplies, so spending on Black Friday is expected to be lower. Businesses still have extra stock that they need to sell to reach their targets, so many are discounting products further and running deals for longer to try to sell as much as they can.  

While people have been spending less lately on non-essential items, Black Friday may be a good opportunity to buy things that they wouldn’t usually be able to afford, meaning people will use this holiday to buy items and get a head start on Christmas shopping.  

What alternatives are there to Black Friday? 

With more people becoming more conscious of environmental issues, shopping days such as Black Friday might be in danger. Here are some alternatives aiming to raise awareness of the impact of Black Friday: 

  • Green Friday – Green Friday promotes a focus on responsible shopping by buying from small, local shops or second-hand items. 
  • Giving Tuesday – Typically the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (this year it will be the 29th November), which is dedicated to giving. This can be in any form, such as donating food to foodbanks, giving money to charity or spending time volunteering. 
  • Buy Nothing Day – This is the same day as Black Friday, but some shops will close that day, rather than offer large discounts. 

Which ethical brands are doing something different? 

Not all companies are offering large discounts on their products, and more and more companies are boycotting Black Friday due to environmental concerns.  

  • PatagoniaPatagonia hasn’t participated in Black Friday sales for a number of years, instead choosing to donate 100% of its sales from over the weekend to environmental causes. This year they are encouraging people to buy less, by giving tips on how to care for clothes and offering repair services for items that need it. Their WORN Wear program allows people to buy second-hand Patagonia items that have been traded in. 
  • FreitagFreitag wants to change Black Friday “from a shopping day to a swapping day”, by closing all of their online stores and running swap stores at locations around the world. Here people can exchange their old Freitag bags rather than buying new ones. 
  • RaeburnAnother company choosing to focus on existing items of clothing is Raeburn. Their campaign Buy Nothing New encourages customers to buy second hand by closing their online stores and selling preloved items in their physical stores. They also have repair shops where people can bring any item of clothing (not just from their brand) to be repaired.  
  • DeciemFor the whole of November, Deciem use their social media channels to raise awareness of the negative impacts of Black Friday and highlight some of the benefits of their products. Their online and physical stores are also closed on Black Friday to further promote these ideas. 
  • Birdsong Instead of Black Friday, Birdsong names the day ‘Transparent Friday’, where they highlight the true costs of fashion and the profits of large retailers compared to what the manufacturers of the items make. Then when people buy their items, they can choose to add a 10% or 15% discount if they want. Alternatively, they can choose to pay full price or even extra to support the people who make the clothes.