Can Black Friday Ever Be Sustainable?

holiday op-ed sustainable living Nov 22, 2023

Black Friday is an American Tradition that dates back to the 1950’s, but in the past 70-ish years, the annual event has evolved into something beyond our wildest imagination. Every year, sales start earlier and earlier (one well-known store I recently went into started their Black Friday sale in the middle of October), and from a sustainability perspective, this spells trouble.

Overproduction, overconsumption, waste, and social impacts are some of the biggest issues associated with Black Friday, and the sad part is it doesn’t have to be this way.

I don’t want to be a party pooper though - if you want to go Black Friday shopping, you should! But, there are a few things I think we should all keep in mind while participating in holiday shopping. Ideally, brands should be responsible for creating products that take into consideration both social and environmental impacts (this is pretty much the foundation of ESG), but in lieu of that, consumers can and do play a massive role in the sustainability movement. 

In fact, a recent study conducted by Fortune and the NYU Stern School for Sustainable Business found that “​​Most Americans would like to purchase sustainable products that are healthier, drive savings (such as lower energy costs), protect their children’s future, improve animal welfare, support local farmers, and are 100% sustainably sourced. Consumers don’t see it as a political position, and our research finds that Americans are carrying through with that purchase intent.”

The overall message of the study is that if we as consumers prioritize sustainability and shop sustainably, brands are willing to adjust to meet our wants and needs. We could have a separate conversation about whether that’s right or wrong - ethically speaking - but for today’s blog, let’s focus on how we, as consumers, can drive change through our purchasing habits.

If you plan on participating in Black Friday, here are some ideas to help you enjoy the holiday and prioritize sustainability.

Only Buy What You Need

Whether you’re shopping for gifts or for yourself, only pick up what you need. It’s tempting when you walk into a store or check out a website and see everything on sale, but try your best to stay on target. 

One of the best ways to do this is to come up with a plan or write down exactly what it is you’re looking for. Keeping things vague like “gift for Dad” won’t help when you’re in the store and feeling the pressure to get a good gift at a good price. Instead, be intentional and think through what you want to get each person on your list, and if it just so happens to be on sale this Black Friday, great!

When you plan your holiday shopping it also gives you the opportunity to think through other purchasing options. Can you thrift the item? Can you make it at home? These questions can help you avoid falling into the trap of buying something new just for the heck of it.

Avoid Social Media

Fashion Revolution pointed this one out in their Black Friday 2023 campaign and it may seem like a small thing to think about during the holiday season, but it is one of the most underrated ways to avoid overconsuming and overspending.

Your favorite companies are probably posting all over Instagram, TikTok, X, and other platforms sharing what sales they’re going to be doing for Black Friday. This constant stream of reminders that there’s a sale and it’s only going to last for a short time could give even the most sustainable shopper FOMO - that’s why staying off of social media or unfollowing these companies (for the time being) can be a great way to avoid temptation.

If you need something, you’ll know it, no need to have social media constantly reminding you of all the potential stuff you’ll be missing out on.

Slow Down and Think Things Through

I did just say “only buy what you need,” but I’m going to make an exception to that rule. If there’s a product you’ve wanted for months and it’s made responsibly, I think you’ve earned yourself a little flexibility.

Maybe there’s a pair of jeans you’ve had your eye on and they’re made with Organic cotton, safe chemistry, provide living wages for their garment workers, and… cost $200+. If you can get a good deal during Black Friday and this is the only time of year you can afford to support sustainable fashion, I understand where you’re coming from. 

This is something that I’ve talked to Derek, our Founder and CEO, about in the past - should we feel guilty for buying something new, even if it’s made in the most responsible and ethical way possible?

I go back and forth on this in my own personal shopping, but I have a few rules in place if I’m going to buy something I want (remember, not a need) brand new. Using clothes shopping as an example, these are some things I ask myself: What is it made of? Am I going to wear it more than just a few times? Does it go with the other items in my closet? Do the values of this company align with my own? Will it fit my body type? Is it designed to last? 

After going through this checklist, there are very few things that check off every box and that’s kind of the point. If I find something that does check off every box, it’s like hitting the jackpot and it’s a safe bet that the item will live with me for years to come.

Be Kind to Others

Maybe not as sustainability-focused as the previous tips, but one I’m passionate about nonetheless. It’s a stressful time of year and we’re all balancing the chaos of work, family, holiday madness, and much more, but that doesn’t mean our empathy for others has to be pushed to the side.

When you’re out shopping on Black Friday, please be kind to retail staff and fellow shoppers. As someone who worked retail for many years, it’s been disheartening to see how angry, hurtful, and downright rude shoppers can be to each other and to sales associates - please don’t be that person. Remember that everyone is just trying to get by and nobody deserves to be screamed at, cursed at, or called names.

The same goes for other members of the workforce - postal workers, grocery clerks, customer service reps, and countless others deserve the same respect you would expect someone to give to you. As the saying goes, treat others the way you want to be treated.

If you work for an organization, stop by your local store and tell staff how much you appreciate what they contribute to the company. Even if that’s not your department or it’s not in your job responsibilities, workers will appreciate someone coming by, recognizing their hard work, and patting them on the back for a job well done.

If you’re a regular somewhere like a restaurant/coffee shop, nail salon, or any other small business, stop by and tell the staff how much you appreciate their services. A holiday card or even a baked good can go a long way as a gesture of goodwill.  

Holiday shopping and Black Friday have ballooned into an overconsumption and overproduction mess, but you don’t have to contribute to the broken system. I hope some of these tips come in handy if you choose to participate in Black Friday this year and no matter how you celebrate, have a wonderful holiday season!


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