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Every year, during the last week of November, the world hosts a stirring event called Black Friday. For shopping enthusiasts, this seems to be one of the biggest opportunities of the year. However, when we look at the dark side of Black Friday, we see that this day of "discounts and promotions" has an aspect that causes environmental damage, consumer thoughtlessness, and societal impacts. In this article, we will explore the real cost behind the dazzling discounts of Black Friday and explain why being a conscious consumer is more important than ever today.
Black Friday is typically designated as the day following Thanksgiving Day, which is usually the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. As we all know, on this day, many brands offer significant discounts and promotions to attract shoppers, making it one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
While there are many theories about the history of Black Friday, as far as we know, the term was first mentioned in the 1960s in Philadelphia. Traffic police officers used this term to describe the large crowds rushing to stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, causing traffic jams and excessive crowds.
Although we cannot definitively determine the exact event from which it takes its name, one thing we know for sure about Black Friday is that it has become a full-fledged season starting from October every year. It transformed into a full season with offers and discounts, and it successfully encourages consumers to fill their shopping carts with much more than they actually need. The success is evident, but the true cost behind the dazzling discounts of Black Friday is significant. A report published in 2019, "Building a Circular Economy," shows that up to 80% of our Black Friday purchases end up in the trash after only one or even zero uses. Moreover, the waste generated by Black Friday goes beyond that. The environmental impact of purchasing a simple t-shirt online is four times greater than buying it from a physical store. On days like Black Friday, when the shopping frenzy prevails, this impact increases exponentially. In 2020, it is estimated that products purchased on Black Friday in Britain and delivered to homes are responsible for 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This amount of greenhouse gas emissions is equivalent to 435 round-trip flights from London to New York!
Anti-Black Friday Actions
Black Friday's frenzy of consumption has sparked anti-movements worldwide.
Buy Nothing Day: Proposed by Canadian artist and activist Ted Dave in 1992, the idea behind Buy Nothing Day is to create a contrast to the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping season, including Black Friday, which is often marked by excessive consumption and shopping madness. Activists in the U.S. encourage people to refrain from any shopping on a designated day and to think critically about the environmental, social inequality, and personal well-being impacts of consumption. Buy Nothing Day quickly gained attention and spread to other countries, becoming a global movement. This year, it will be held on November 24, the same day as Black Friday.
Green Friday: Inspired by Buy Nothing Day and launched in 2015 to raise awareness about the negative effects of society's shopping habits. Green Friday encourages consumers to embrace ethical and conscious shopping by either buying from sustainable, ethical brands or not making any purchases at all. Supported by various stakeholders, including the European Commission, ECODES, WWF, and Ecoserveis, this movement emphasizes the importance of respecting the environment. It is also scheduled for the same day as Black Friday.
Giving Tuesday: Created in 2012 by individuals and organizations at the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact in New York, Giving Tuesday has become an ongoing initiative throughout the year. It aims to allow non-profit organizations to raise more donations in a single day than they typically would.
Circular Monday: Established in 2017 in Malmö, Sweden, by the circular fabric repair startup Repamera AB and its founder Henning Gillberg. Circular Monday encourages the preference for businesses with circular economy models, including those that sell, rent, share, and repair products made from recycled materials. This movement highlights circular alternatives to the linear consumption offered by Black Friday and other shopping days. Businesses participating in Circular Monday promote these alternatives throughout the week of Black Friday.
The common thread among these movements is their promotion of conscious consumption in response to Black Friday's consumption craze.
What Is Conscious Consumption and Why Is It Important?
Conscious consumption is a behavior and lifestyle choice that revolves around carefully considering what, when, and how we purchase products and services and making conscious purchasing decisions.
It is a response to the negative effects of unchecked consumerism, grounded in the idea that individuals should consider the ethical, social, environmental, and personal consequences of their buying choices. Conscious consumption is important for various reasons, but the most crucial aspect is not limiting it to just one day but incorporating it into a lifestyle.
Environmental Impact: We are aware that our planet's resources are limited. As individuals, we currently consume 1.75 times more than the Earth can sustain. Each product we consume has multiple stages, from raw material extraction to production, transportation, and disposal, each with environmental consequences. As conscious consumers, we can reduce environmental impacts by only purchasing what we need and selecting products with minimal environmental footprints.
Social Responsibility: Conscious consumers should consider the fair treatment of workers in the supply chain, whether products are ethically produced under fair working conditions, and whether a company is socially responsible. By choosing products and brands that promote fair wages and equal treatment, conscious consumers contribute to reducing social inequalities, prevent support for companies associated with exploitative practices and societal inequality, and support local and sustainable businesses, thereby empowering local economies and communities.
Global Impact: According to McKinsey's research, 78% of consumers believe a sustainable lifestyle is important, emphasizing the need for businesses to align with these values. The strength of this ratio can influence policy changes and government regulations. A collective shift toward more ethical and sustainable consumption can pave the way for larger-scale transformations.
Tips for Transitioning to Conscious Consumption
Consume Less: A study conducted in 20 different countries in 2018 shows that people, despite having numerous fashion items, do not wear at least 50% of their wardrobes. Overcoming this common situation familiar to all of us is possible with conscious consumption habits. The root of the problem may lie in our habit of excessive consumption: while our grandmothers bought 2 clothing items, we buy 10. By redefining what will make us happy, we can eliminate excessive consumption from our list.
Do Your Research: While we all prefer to shop from ethical sources, the sad truth is that sometimes the places where we shop are quite good at hiding the truth from us. But we also have a powerful tool in our hands: the power of research! If you can read this article, you probably have internet access. Conducting as much research as possible before deciding to purchase a product and questioning brands to choose products that align with our values can be a good start.
Buy Fair Trade Products: In the previous point, we discussed research. But what if we are confused about where to start our research? Firstly, we can examine the practices and values of the brands where we shop. We can pay attention to Fair Trade practices, certifications indicating organic production or no testing on animals, and supporting actions (calls to action, events, campaigns, etc.). By providing needed products from brands that align with our values based on the results we obtain, we can help these brands increase their global impact.
Say No to Single-Use Plastics: Single-use plastics, plastic packaging, and packaging are among the waste types generated, especially during online shopping. Moreover, it is not limited to just that: many products we purchase contain different plastic derivatives and become unusable shortly. Therefore, reading labels carefully when purchasing needed products, choosing products made from natural materials if possible, and opting for plastic-free shipping from brands during online shopping can contribute to reducing solid waste generated by human hands by one-third.
Repair and Repurpose: We have all tried to repair or repurpose broken or outdated items at least once in our homes instead of discarding them. The Japanese even have a philosophy that reflects the idea of viewing the breakage and repair of an object not as something to be hidden but as part of the object's history: Kintsugi! Inspired by the philosophy of Kintsugi, we can extend the life of our items by repairing or finding different uses for them, giving them new meanings, and preventing waste.
Buy Second-Hand or Sustainable Whenever You Can: If turning your current items into a new product seems unlikely, or you really need another product, consider buying second-hand items. Second-hand stores and online marketplaces offer a variety of second-hand products that can be both budget-friendly and environmentally friendly. Another option may be to prefer brands that produce products from long-lasting and sustainable materials. This way, we can use a product we purchased for years and wait for it to complete its life cycle before buying a new one.
Shop Local: Conscious consumers prioritize supporting local businesses and artisans that can help strengthen local economies and communities. By choosing local brands, we can reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to the activities of small producers.
Beware of Greenwashing: Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing and public relations practice where a company or organization exaggerates or falsely declares itself to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible. To avoid brands that engage in greenwashing, research, as mentioned earlier, and paying attention to fair trade during research are critical. Additionally, determining how consistent brands' actions are and how open they are to answering questions directed at them can be an excellent method to avoid greenwashing.
When we look at the history of Black Friday and the effects of today's consumption craze, we see that conscious consumption and sustainable shopping are becoming increasingly important. Each of us has a critical role to play in this change. This Black Friday, you can use your power of conscious consumption by opting for fair and sustainable products, supporting local businesses, engaging in second-hand shopping, and making choices that consider environmental impacts. You can even choose not to shop by embracing the greater power of the principle of not buying. Let's remember that each choice we make is much more critical than we might think in making our world more sustainable and fair.