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  • Writer's pictureLaura Berni

Black Friday: An environmentally disastrous consumerist frenzy

Since last time Dan reproached me for forgetting the number of blogs I had written (Sorry Boss ://), this time we’re back to a very neat, numerical, blog. Don't we all love the comfort of routine and order? The answer is no, but hey I need to pretend to be a serious young professional instead of a messy art student.

Welcome then to Blog number 9!

Let’s start with some shopping frenzy. Especially online shopping. If you feel kind of alienated yet fascinated by these events, this blog is all for you.

If you have any type of presence online or just any awareness of the world around you, you will have noticed this last Thursday was Thanksgiving and last Friday was therefore the infamous “Black Friday”. For a bit of context, the earliest evidence of the phrase Black Friday applied to the day after Thanksgiving in a shopping context was recorded in Philadelphia in 1961, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. That was my Wikipedia moment of the day, hope you enjoyed the curiosity. Anyways, on Black Friday because many people are off work, shops drop prices, usually for one day only, to start the Christmas season.

Online retailers are especially keen to offer “incredible bargains”, but often if an offer is too good to be true… it’s because it is. I tried looking out for Ryanair’s Black Friday deals and quickly realised that the flights I was looking for were the exact same price as the week before, but only advertised as “discounted” from a higher price.

What I find interesting is all the implications and complications that come with Black Friday. Since the early 2000’s, retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped for bargains online that Monday from home or work. That is how Cyber Monday started in 2005.

This year, Cyber Monday is on 2 December (the day this blog was published). It follows Black Friday and continues the bargain-hunting frenzy by shifting all the shopping to online platforms. But that isn't the end of it. My favourite online shopping insanity is something I have only just discovered: Singles Day.

Singles Day falls on November 11. Astute readers will have noticed that the November 11 is written 11.11, or one-one-one-one. Brilliant, right? Known in China as "bare sticks holiday" because of how it looks numerically (Numerical precision seems to be the theme of this blog in general eh?), Single’s Day began as an anti-Valentine's Day when students at Nanjing University started celebrating their singledom.

But what does this have to do with Black Friday?

Single’s Day became a second “Black Friday” when it was adopted by e-commerce giant Alibaba (China's equivalent of Amazon) in 2009 and it has now become a day when everyone, regardless of their single status, buys themselves gifts. Alibaba, said 2019 sales had exceeded $30bn just on one day. The spending binge, has for years eclipsed Cyber Monday in the US for online purchases made on a single day. This year the company even hyped the event with a "Countdown Gala" featuring a performance by Taylor Swift on Sunday night at a Shanghai stadium.

More than $1 billion was spent in just over a minute in the start to Monday's event. $1 Billion. In 1 Minute.

To me this spending extravaganza screams capitalist consumerism and I actually have a pretty big problem with it. Black Friday only promotes big brands and discourages local shopping. Many artisan and family owned brands still do not have a digital presence, should we encourage them to jump onto online shopping platforms or should we try and go back to traditional shopping? How many useless and one-time-use items are bought on a day like Single’s Day? Shouldn't we stir away from pointless consumerism?

This year where climate action seems to be more relevant than ever, what are the implications of a day that glorifies consumerism?

I do not seem to be the only one expressing such concerns. A French legislative committee led by former environment minister Delphine Bathot proposed an amendment this week to ban Black Friday by stating: “we are in a situation of ecological emergency, and aggressive marketing pushing for compulsive purchases is not compatible with the fight against global warming.”

Meanwhile, the current minister for a green transition, Elisabeth Borne, criticised Black Friday on Europe 1 radio saying it creates “traffic jams, pollution, and gas emissions” and benefits “big online platforms” like Amazon, not local businesses.

So is Black Friday bad for the environment? I would say, Yes. And so do many people that have far more expertise than I do. Millions of shoppers buy and then discard smartphones, TVs and other electronic devices, contributing to the 50 million tons of electronic waste that the world produces each year. Meanwhile, items delivered to your door in one business day or less puts more diesel-using trucks on the ground and polluting ships on the water. “Fast fashion” items are hugely carbon-intensive products, and all those items eventually end up in a landfill.

What is your take on the matter? Did you get any amazing deals this year? And have you ever thought about the consequences of online shopping?

Let me know!

Thanks to:

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash


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