Black Friday started in the USA. The day after Thanksgiving, retailers started to offer huge discounts on their products to sell remaining stock in the lead up to Christmas. This years Black Friday falls on Friday 24th November.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Black Friday came to the UK, starting with online giant, Amazon, and quickly becoming adopted by stores and retailers everywhere. The once-day-long sale now lasts for at least a long weekend, with some sellers putting discounts in place for the whole of November.

These heavily discounted products may lead to billions of dollars in revenue, but the sales extravaganza also has negative environmental impacts, thanks to increased carbon emissions and masses of waste. Here’s why Black Friday is bad for the environment, and how you can shop in a more sustainable way.

What’s the environmental impact of Black Friday? 

Black Friday leads to a huge increase in deliveries

Over the last few years, our shopping habits have shifted online due to the pandemic, although the highstreet is now bouncing back with a 20% higher footfall in January 2023 compared with January 2022.

Online shopping can lead to higher emissions than shopping in stores, due to the energy needed to run warehouses and emissions from home delivery. During last year’s Black Friday week, it was estimated that 1.2 million tons of CO2 was released due to trucks transporting goods around Europe. That’s 94% higher than an average week.

It’s not just the increased number of deliveries that are responsible for the rise in emissions, as the whole life cycle of the product needs to be considered. This includes manufacturing, packaging, shipping, waste and end use of the products. 

Black Friday leads to a huge increase in waste

Waste is a big issue, especially around Black Friday, as large discounts and cheap products convince people to buy items they don’t need. According to the Green Alliance, up to 80% of items bought on Black Friday, including the packaging they arrive in, are thrown away after a few uses, some without being used at all.  In the U.S. waste increases by 25% between Black Friday and the New Year. While the majority of this waste comes from packaging, some of it is due to unused items that were bought because of the allure of getting a good deal.

Many products that aren’t thrown away are often returned to the company, but this doesn’t mean they will be put back on sale, especially if businesses were clearing stock to make way for Christmas items. This then leads to more waste, as these returned products often end up in landfill. 

Black Friday has ethical implications

Black Friday brings plenty of ethical implications too. For example, retailer, Amazon, who makes huge profits during Black Friday, gets away with paying very little tax due to shifting money into tax-haven Luxembourg.

What’s more, sales may lead to staff being overworked and underpaid. Over 1000 Amazon workers at a Coventry warehouse have gone on strike this month in a dispute over pay and working conditions – with more strikes planned for Black Friday itself. If a brand prices its items too cheaply (Boohoo, Temu, we’re looking at you), trust your instinct and do some research before buying.

What alternatives are there to Black Friday? 

With more people becoming more conscious of environmental issues, Black Friday might see a welcome shift in focus. Here are some alternatives to Black Friday that you could take part in instead:

  • Choose small businesses – A major issue with Black Friday is that most of the sales and profits go to retail giants who can afford to slash their costs due to sheer quantity of sales. Support people’s lives and livelihoods by choosing to shop from small businesses instead.
  • Only buy what you will use long term – try to avoid impulse buying this year just to get a good deal. Instead, only buy things that you really need that will be used long term.
  • Giving Tuesday – Typically the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (this year it will be the 28th November), Giving Tuesday inspires people to give in any form. This might include donating food to foodbanks, giving money to charity or spending time volunteering. 
  • Buy Nothing DayTaking place on the same day as Black Friday (24th November), Buy Nothing Day asks you to take action through inaction.

Which ethical brands are doing something different? 

Not all companies are offering large discounts on their products, and increasing numbers of companies are boycotting Black Friday due to environmental concerns.  

  • PatagoniaPatagonia hasn’t participated in Black Friday sales for a number of years. This year they are encouraging people to buy less, by giving tips on how to care for clothes and offering repair services for items that need it. Their WORN Wear program allows people to buy second-hand Patagonia items that have been traded in. 
  • Finisterre – Last year, instead of Black Friday, Finisterre ran Blue Friday. For every order that was placed over the Black Friday weekend, they donated £2 to Level Water, a UK charity that provides specialist swimming lessons for children with disabilities. They raised over £10,000 for the cause.
  • Lush – Lush offer just one sale a year, after Christmas. This is because they believe their products are best used when they are fresh.
  • Teemill – Instead of Black Friday, circular economy platform, Teemill, are doing Take Back Friday. Once a product has reached the end of its life, send it back and you’ll get a £5 credit towards your next order.
  • Me and Em – This clothes retailer have shared on their page that this and every year, they won’t be doing a Black Friday sale. Why? “Because we don’t believe in fast fashion. We don’t rush when it comes to making our clothes, and we don’t want you to rush when it comes to shopping them.”
  • RaeburnAnother company choosing to focus on existing items of clothing is Raeburn. Their campaign Buy Nothing New encourages customers to buy second hand by closing their online stores and selling preloved items in their physical stores. They also have repair shops where people can bring any item of clothing (not just from their brand) to be repaired.  
  • Not on the Highstreet – This year, small business marketplace, Not on the Highstreet urges you to buy nothing… unless it’s from a small business of course.