Saturday, November 25, 2023

How to Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sustainably



Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the most popular shopping events of the year, where retailers offer huge discounts and deals to attract customers. Millions of people around the world participate in these sales, hoping to find bargains and save money. But what is the cost of this consumer frenzy for the environment?

The impact of production

The first environmental impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is related to the production of the goods that are sold. Every product that is manufactured requires raw materials, energy, water, and labor. These resources are often extracted and used in unsustainable ways, causing pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and human rights violations.

For example, producing an average laptop releases 100 to 200 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere, and an average tablet releases 50 kilograms (source 1). These emissions contribute to global warming and climate change, which have devastating effects on ecosystems and human health. Moreover, electronic devices contain rare and precious metals, such as gold, silver, and cobalt, that are mined in conflict zones and under hazardous conditions (source 2).

Another example is the fashion industry, which is one of the most polluting and wasteful industries in the world. According to the United Nations, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, 20% of global wastewater, and 24% of insecticides. It also consumes huge amounts of water, land, and chemicals, and produces tons of textile waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators (source 3).

The impact of packaging and shipping

The second environmental impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is related to the packaging and shipping of the goods that are sold. Most of the products that are bought online are delivered in cardboard boxes, plastic bags, bubble wrap, and other materials that are often not recycled or reused. These materials create more waste and pollution and require more energy and resources to produce.

Moreover, the transportation of the goods from the warehouses to the customers also generates emissions and noise. According to a report by Money.co.uk, deliveries from Black Friday sales in the UK in 2021 were estimated to release over 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is the equivalent of 435 return flights from London to New York, or around 0.12% of the UK's total annual emissions for a comparable year (source 4).

The speed and convenience of online shopping also encourage more impulse buying and returns, which increase the environmental impact of shipping. According to a study by Vox and the University of California's Climate Lab, two-day shipping, like that offered by Amazon Prime, has a much higher carbon footprint than slower options that ship over a week. That is because faster shipping requires more diesel-using trucks on the ground and less efficient shipping systems (source 5).

The impact of consumption and disposal

The third environmental impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is related to the consumption and disposal of the goods that are sold. Many of the products that are bought during these sales are not needed or wanted, and end up being unused, stored, or thrown away. This creates more clutter, waste, and emissions, and reduces the lifespan and value of the products.

For example, according to a survey by Finder.com, Americans spent $12.9 billion on unwanted gifts in 2019 (source 6). These gifts either end up in the trash, in charity shops, or in online marketplaces, where they compete with new products and lower their prices. This creates a vicious cycle of overproduction, overconsumption, and oversupply, which undermines the circular economy and the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Another example is the phenomenon of "fast fashion", which is driven by the constant demand for new and cheap clothing. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the average number of times a garment is worn before it is discarded has decreased by 36% in the last 15 years. This means that more clothing is being produced and disposed of, creating more waste and emissions. The foundation estimates that the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world's carbon budget by 2050 if nothing changes.

How to shop more sustainably

The environmental impacts of Black Friday and Cyber Monday are alarming and unsustainable. However, there are ways to shop more responsibly and reduce the negative effects of these sales. Here are some tips to shop more sustainably:

  • Plan ahead and make a list of what you need and want, and stick to it. Avoid impulse buying and unnecessary purchases.
  • Research the products and the brands that you are interested in, and choose those that have a lower environmental impact, such as certified organic, fair trade, or recycled products.
  • Opt for slower and greener shipping options, such as ground shipping, local delivery, or click and collect. Avoid express or next-day delivery, and consolidate your orders to reduce the number of packages.
  • Reuse or recycle the packaging materials that you receive, or return them to the sender if possible. Avoid single-use plastic bags and bubble wrap, and opt for paper or cardboard boxes instead.
  • Use or gift the products that you buy, and take good care of them. Repair them if they break, or donate them if you don't need them anymore. Avoid throwing them away, and recycle them properly if they are beyond repair.

By following these tips, you can still enjoy the benefits of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while minimizing the harm to the environment. Remember that every purchase you make has an impact, and that you have the power to make a difference. Happy shopping!

Sources

(1) 2020 Report on the Environmental Impact of E-Commerce - GlobeNewswire. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/01/23/1974226/0/en/2020-Report-on-the-Environmental-Impact-of-E-Commerce.html.

(2) Black Friday, Cyber Monday—Here's how they impact the environment. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/how-black-friday-cyber-monday-impacts-environment.

(3) The environmental impact of Black Friday – DW – 11/24/2022. https://www.dw.com/en/the-environmental-impact-of-black-friday/a-63875495.

(4) The environmental impact of Black Friday revealed. https://www.businessleader.co.uk/the-environmental-impact-of-black-friday-revealed/.

(5) The Environmental Impact of E-Commerce 2020 - Business Wire. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200127005508/en/The-Environmental-Impact-of-E-Commerce-2020---Special-Sales-like-Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday-Burden-the-Environment-Due-to-the-Intense-Amount-of-Packaging-Shipping-Delivery---ResearchAndMarkets.com.

(6) Is Black Friday bad for the environment? | The Nappy Gurus. https://www.thenappygurus.com/blog/the-environmental-impact-of-black-friday-revealed.html.