In this guide, we consider what the impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday might be across various aspects of sustainability.
We look at how these shopping events might impact the environment and resource use, and also the economy.
We also briefly consider the potential impact on other aspects of society.
Lastly, we consider how avoidable the more negative impact of Black Friday & Cyber Monday might be, as well as what the options might be to reduce this impact.
Firstly, What Are Black Friday & Cyber Monday, & When Are They?
Black Friday is one of the major shopping events in the Christmas/holiday shopping season.
It first established itself in the US, but has since become popular in other countries.
In the lead up to Black Friday, retailers engage in heavy promotion and marketing of different products.
On Black Friday (and sometimes just before it as well), retailers offer large discounts on products and items, and make other offers and deals to incentivize consumers to buy.
This usually leads to a significant amount of sales
Over the past few decades, Black Friday in particular has been the biggest/busiest shopping day of the year for retail stores in terms of number of visits from customers. Several reports indicate it’s been the biggest sales event in the US since 2005.
Several sets of data and figures show Black Friday sales revenue has been growing on a per year basis.
Some retailers extend their offers and deals until Cyber Monday
For online stores and ecommerce, Thanksgiving Thursday through to Cyber Monday might make up the ‘Cyber Five’ weekend
When Are Black Friday & Cyber Monday?
‘Black Friday’ is the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US, and it usually falls on a date at the end of the month of November.
‘Cyber Monday’ is the Monday after Black Friday.
Potential Impact Of Black Friday & Cyber Monday On The Environment & Resource Use
Potential Impact On The Environment & Resource Use
Waste can include products themselves, as well as packaging that comes with products
There may be waste on the consumers end when they receive and use products, but also on the retailer’s end when they have to deal with returns that can’t be re-sold or re-used in some capacity
The production and transport/shipping of products has a carbon footprint
Production involves the use of energy
And, transport/shipping uses fuel. How efficiently products are packed for
It’s also worth considering that there can be transport for both deliveries, and also returns
– Resource Use
The manufacturing and transport of products, as well as the use of them, generally uses resources
– General Pollution
The manufacture and transport of products can involve general forms of pollution, like air and water pollution
– Impact Of Returns
The return of products can have an impact on several areas of the environment and resource use
– Impact Of Specific Types Of Products
Products in the technology/electronic and also the fashion/clothing sectors may be some of the most in demand over the holiday period and around Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Some of these products may also have high waste rates and also return rates
Other Information On Potential Impact On The Environment & Resource Use
frontiersgroup.org notes that (paraphrased):
US household throw out more trash between Thanksgiving & New Years than any other time throughout the year
This trash can include the bought products themselves, but also packaging that comes with it like cardboard boxes, bags and other packaging
Returned products and return packaging can also be an issue
sarahbassett.co notes that
‘… 80 percent of everything bought during Black Friday … ends up in landfill, incineration or at best, low quality recycling – often after a short life [and electronic goods and clothes might make up a notable percentage of this’
[Additionally, whatever stock companies don’t sell from Black Friday, they end up sending to waste, donating it or discounting it]
[Also, returns can get sent to landfill too]
– Carbon Emissions
frontiersgroup.org notes this about inefficient shipping (paraphrased):
Promises by retailers of free 2 day shipping during Black Friday can result in freight being packed more inefficiently and therefore transported more inefficiently (in comparison to shipping that takes longer and is packed in a more space efficient way)
Additionally, return shipping means a product is shipped twice instead of once
Both of these factors can lead to greater emissions
sarahbassett.co notes that several major countries ‘… report major spikes in fossil fuel emissions attributed to Black Friday shopping’ and general manufacture and shipping
The reverse supply chains and shipping of returned goods also contributes to this
activesustainability.com indicates that (paraphrased) electronic commerce in particular increases the number of returns, which can lead to more carbon emissions
– General Pollution
From sarahbassett.co and also goodonyou.eco, referencing EcoCart: ‘Black Friday 2020 was the most polluting holiday yet’
frontiersgroup.org notes that (paraphrased):
Some types of products like clothing might have high return rates (of between 30 to 40%) compared to other products
Only a very small amount of all returns are restocked and resold (approx. 10%), and the rest might be disposed of
– Electronic/Tech Products, & Clothing/Fashion Products Specifically
activesustainability.com indicates that (paraphrased) technological products and clothing/fashion products are some of the product most in demand, and the fashion sector is the second most polluting sector
Potential Impact Of Black Friday & Cyber Monday On The Economy
Potential Impact On The Economy
– Economic Benefit For Some Companies
In the form of revenue, potential profits, potential new customer acquisition, and other potential benefits
– Economic Benefit For Individuals
In the form of employment opportunities, income/wages, and other potential benefits
– General Stimulation Of The Economy
From the manufacture and purchasing of products
Other Potential Impacts Of Black Friday & Cyber Monday
Other potential impacts might include:
– For Consumers
Provides opportunity to buy products early for Christmas
Can potentially save money on discounted products, and in some instances people may not be able to afford these products otherwise
Can shop from home instead of having to go in store
– For Consumers
Some argue that products can be obtained from some retailers/sellers at a similarly discounted price throughout the year during other sales
Some argue that the marketing and advertising around Black Friday and Cyber Monday encourages people to buy things they don’t need, or buy things on impulse. This leaves consumers with less disposable income for other things they may actually need
So, Are Black Friday & Cyber Monday Good Or Bad For The Environment?
Black Friday and Cyber Monday might not be good for the environment or resource use:
– If consumers are consuming things they don’t need, and engaging in excessive or unnecessary consumerism (which leads to unnecessary resource use, waste, and potentially various forms of environmental pollution)
– Where there is more waste generated (from things like product packaging, and returns)
– Where there are more emissions (from things like production and also shipping/transport)
– Where there’s general pollution from things like product manufacture
Are Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sustainable Overall?
Whether or not Black Friday & Cyber Monday are sustainable or not might depend on factors like:
– Whether consumers are buying things they need, and whether these things will last. Or, whether they are buying things that will be thrown out or disused shortly after buying them
– Whether we have the resources to continue to support the level of product consumption we currently have
– Whether the environmental effects like waste, emissions, and general pollution are significantly impinging on environmental thresholds
– Whether Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a net positive or a net negative economically
Other Question To Ask About Black Friday & Cyber Monday
Other questions to ask might include:
– Are They Avoidable Shopping Events?
Although some companies are boycotting Black Friday in particular, some argue that other companies won’t, and also there’s other shopping events that can replace them if they do decline in popularity.
Some argue that holiday shopping and impulse shopping will always exist in some way.
Without putting laws and regulations in place to restrict retailers and consumers, the free market will ultimately do what it wants
– Do Black Friday & Cyber Monday Actually Increase Total Production, Resource Use & Environmental Degradation?
Some argue that consumers only have a certain amount of disposable income, and if they don’t spend their money on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they will simply spend it elsewhere.
This might bring into question the actual impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday on total production, resource use and environmental degradation.
Other point to the sales data on both days, as well as factors like the specific marketing/advertising by sellers, discounts offered, and favorable shipping conditions, and indicate that shoppers are buying and spending money where they wouldn’t otherwise if these factors weren’t present.
Potential Ways To Reduce The Negative Impact Of Black Friday & Cyber Monday On Sustainability & The Environment
Some potential solutions might involve:
– Raising Awareness About General Consumer Consumption
i.e. bringing about general awareness across society about excessive or mindless consumerism, and encouraging more thoughtful consumption
Part of this might involve getting people to consider their rate of consumption, why they are buying something, and whether to buy new vs secondhand
This might be done throughout the year instead of just around Black Friday & Cyber Monday
– Buying Certain Types Of Products On The Days
If consumers are going to buy on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, they might buy products that they will definitely use or they definitely need, and that are quality and will last a reasonable amount of time
– Consumers Buying On Days Other Than Black Friday or Cyber Monday, Or Choosing Companies That Ship Efficiently
Deals and discounts might be available on products on other days throughout the year (other than Black Friday & Cyber Monday)
Consumers might be able to get products at these times, and product might be shipped more efficiently at these times
Another option if buying on Black Friday Or Cyber Monday is to choose to buy from companies that ship efficiently, instead of potentially inefficiently on faster 2 day shipping trips
– Different Companies Are Doing Different Things To Show Their Stance Against Black Friday
One example is companies shutting down their website or store on Black Friday, and/or not participating in the day. Some refer to this as ‘Buy Nothing Day’
Another example is providing education or encouragement on social media for consumers not to participate in Black Friday, or to participate in other activities like repairing, or selling their existing goods secondhand before buying new.
‘Green Friday’ is an initiative that was has been created where companies promote certain sustainable products, or principles related to a more circular economy
Companies like Alibaba have also signalled an intent to run initiatives that focus on sustainable products and sustainable packaging
Another example is companies donating sales revenue or profit from Black Friday to a charitable cause, or funnelling it towards fundraising efforts – the outdoor clothes company Patagonia has reportedly done this in the past (according to croneri.co.uk)
A variation of the last example in the above paragraph is a company donating products to charities in need for every product of their own that gets sold on Black Friday
– Other Groups Getting Consumers To Question Black Friday
Some groups, other than companies, run campaigns to get people to consider if they need to participate in Black Friday or not
Facts, Stats Or Trends On Black Friday & Cyber Monday
Several reports indicate that Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year in the US since 2005
frontiergroup.org indicates that ‘Every year, the number of dollars spent on Black Friday [by consumers] increases’
sarahbassett.co indicates that (paraphrased) the amount spent on Black Friday in 2020 was 20% more than the previous year, and activesustainability.com has a similar figure
activesustainability.com indicates that Black Friday & Cyber Monday in 2020 were the days that generated the most online commerce in US history
‘Interest in Black Friday, and revenue numbers, are flatlining or trending down. Online sales on Black Friday dipped [in 2021] for the first time ever’
[And, this might be because of similar shopping days throughout the year, the ‘selling season’ getting earlier each year, Black Friday increasing in duration each year to sales aren’t as urgent, the effect of the lingering impact of lockdowns such as issues with supply chains, and economic conditions’
wikipedia.org has data on ‘Black Friday weekend’ by the year, including information on things like the number of shoppers, and the amount of money spent
frontiergroup.org indicates that ‘Cyber Monday 2020 became the largest online shopping day in US history …’ and, there was an increase in money spent on purchases compared to the previous year by more than a billion dollars
From forbes.com: ‘Cyber Monday has clearly overtaken Black Friday over the ‘Cyber Five’ weekend’