Can Black Friday Ever Be Green?

Rebecca Harris, Research Director at Mustard on the harmful effects of Black Friday on the planet, and how retailers are turning towards more sustainable measures.

Black Friday is when retailers offer huge discounts for their goods, ahead of the Christmas period (usually the last Friday in November). Despite the name, Black Friday tends to take place over a few days, even a week or month for some retailers. But this annual event is harmful for our planet, because it encourages us to buy things that we might not need or even use, and in turn this creates needless pollution and waste (in the manufacturing, packaging, transport and so on).

The notion of an annual ‘big sale’ over a short period of time isn’t new – remember the Boxing Day sales in the 80s and 90s? The rise of online shopping and increased store opening hours have meant that such sale events have gradually become more dispersed throughout the year. But Black Friday (which is relatively newer in the UK) bucks this trend, as retailers attempt to create a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – that if we don’t shop on Black Friday, we won’t get the best prices.

There are, however, some retailers that don’t participate in Black Friday, because it’s not aligned with their brand (typically more premium brands, such as Apple). There are others that use Black Friday as an opportunity to make a statement in relation to their commitment to sustainability and ethics.  This approach to Black Friday is often referred to as ‘Green Friday’ and initiatives range from supporting charities, anti-Black Friday messaging and offering discounts on more eco-friendly products. Here are some of our favourite examples from Black Friday 2023…

Currys – Green Friday (savings on energy efficient products)

Currys offered savings on home appliances which aim to reduce energy usage and lower energy bills. Ahead of the event, it also encouraged customers to recycle their old appliances by eliminating its usual £30 fee.

Lucy & Yak – Donating profits from limited edition print to charity

Partnering with the Fior Di Loto Foundation, Lucy & Yak launched limited edition print dungarees that featured sketches by the girls supported by the foundation. All net profits from the dungarees went to the charity.

Osprey – Discount on selected products and using profit to support conservation efforts

Osprey offered 20% discount on selected products and donated 20% of every sale purchase to support EOCA’s invaluable conservation efforts.

Veja – Offering a free trainer repair

Sustainable trainer company Veja offered customers a free trainer repair in one of its five cobbler locations across the world.

Aligne – raising awareness of Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is an initiative to encourage charitable donations. Aligne sent pre-paid donation bags along with its orders for customers to fill and send to Smart Works, a charity that helps unemployed women with clothing and coaching to get into employment.

The Aligne case is a great example of a behaviour change intervention, that can nudge more of us to donate unwanted clothes, rather than seeing them end up in landfill, and a win for all – the brand (who still gets to sell), the consumer (who finally gets to ship that charity shop pile off, out the house!) and a win for the planet and others in need.

There are indications that Black Friday is becoming less popular in the UK, but it’s widely perceived that this is primarily being driven by increased consumer scepticism (people don’t believe that they are getting the best deal on Black Friday) and the cost-of-living crisis, as opposed to a movement towards more conscious consumerism.

Barclays, which sees nearly half of Britain’s credit and debit card transactions, said the volume of transactions on Black Friday was down 0.63% compared to 2022. “This dip in sales volumes year-on-year is perhaps expected given the impact of the cost-of-living on Brits”.

So, can Black Friday ever be green? The issue here isn’t actually Black Friday, but mindless consumerism. Many of us are guilty of buying things that we might not need or even use throughout the year, and such engrained behaviours are hard to change. More and more brands are demonstrating that they can be a force for good, by offering initiatives which go some way to offset the negative impact of our behaviours.

But ultimately, the onus is on shoppers to be more considered in what, how, where and when they spend – and we need help in achieving this. We need the likes of government bodies, charities, and financial institutions (plus retailers and manufacturers) to drive behaviour change. With the right interventions, consumers can be nudged towards shopping more consciously and in turn, this will encourage retailers to act and operate more sustainably. According to Mary Portas, “sustainability isn’t a cost, sacrifice or handbrake to economic prosperity. Instead, it’s a generative and powerful unlock to sustained and holistic growth, for all.”

Let’s hope to see more retailers transitioning to be more sustainable in the coming years, not just on Black (or Green) Friday!