Black Friday was this past weekend and the majority of Canadians were predicted to participate - I know I’m included in that group. Black Friday deals draw us in and pressure us to buy now because we won’t get better savings any other time of the year. But what impact does this consumption have on the Earth? And can the shopping frenzy be used to benefit the environment rather than at its expense?
A 2018 survey found that the average Canadian spends $640 on Black Friday. What are we spending all of this money on? Clothing is the #1 most popular category for Black Friday sales. The biggest savings are often found from fast fashion brands that can slash prices since the clothing was made cheaply in the first place. Online retailer Pretty Little Thing is earning headlines for offering items at as little as 8 cents.
Protestors marching to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of Black Friday in Vancouver in 2019, credit: CTV News
Due to the pandemic, consumers are shopping online more than ever but this convenience can come at a high cost. A recent CBC Marketplace investigation found that perfectly good items returned to Amazon Canada are ending up in the landfill. In the United States, $400 billion worth of merchandise is returned annually, which results in five billion pounds of waste added to landfills. Returning these items racks up another 15 million tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. These numbers illustrate the missing costs on your final receipt.
The impact of online shopping returns, credit: Optoro
However, online shopping shouldn’t be shunned. If items aren’t returned or rush ordered, it can have a smaller carbon footprint than brick and mortar shopping. There are also pioneering initiatives working to lower the environmental impact of online deliveries. Cargo electric bikes and electric vehicles are two options being piloted in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We are inspired by SHIFT, a worker-owned co-op located in East Vancouver that specializes in last-mile delivery using pedal-powered tricycles and electric cargo vehicles.
Cargo electric bike, credit: CBC
Another paradigm shift that many local businesses are driving is to use the uptick in shopping (and revenue) as an opportunity to reinvest in their communities. Last year, a Victoria-based recycled clothing brand, L/L Supply, created a new initiative called Blue Friday. The co-founders Jeff Duke and Maya Bellay brought together businesses with a sustainability focus to donate 100% of their Black Friday profits to ocean cleanup. Almost $16,000 was raised and used to purchase two seabins which are floating garbage cans that can capture floating plastic pollution and oil. These bins can remove 1.5 tonnes of floating debris per year.
A seabin being installed at North Saanich Marina, credit: Times Colonist
This year, L/L Supply, Goldilocks, SALT, Zero Waste Emporium, West Coast Refill, Salt and Seaweed Apothocary, the Market Bags, and Wychbury Ave came together to do it again and are hoping to purchase another seabin.
One of our brand partners is also using this holiday weekend as an opportunity to give back to their community. SoftSoul is donating a pair of slippers with every purchase to Mamas for Mamas Vancouver, a local charitable organization that supports mothers in crisis, and provides ongoing support to low-income mothers and their kids.
SoftSoul slippers, credit: SoftSoul
The Small Business Saturday movement also supports rejecting sales at big box stores and investing in local businesses that need the boost more than ever. COVID-19 has hit small retailers especially hard, but it is inspiring to see their continued dedication to supporting local causes.
These examples just go to show that Black Friday shopping can have a meaningful, positive impact on communities and the environment. Moral of the Story: Buy what you need, support local and when you see items on sale, think about what costs might not be included in the price.
What are your thoughts? We invite you to share and educate us on any similar initiatives so that we can continue to promote responsible consumption together.