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Black Friday and Cyber Monday, are upon us once again, but when it comes to sustainability, they are controversial subjects, and this year is no exception. Many brands feel compelled to use heavy discounting and marketing at this time of year, encouraging  hyper-consumption, with many people buying products they don’t need for the sake of a bargain, resulting in massive amounts of waste. So how can you ensure you’re not making savings at the cost of the environment? Here’s a quick 5-point guide to navigating the sales.

1. Don’t Get Pressured into Buying things You Don’t Need

The first and most important step of the waste hierarchy is prevention; in order to combat climate change the most important thing we need to do is reduce consumption and make sure we’re getting the most out of reusing the things we already have.

This is especially true when it comes to clothing, as fast fashion retailers are always primed to take full advantage of attracting customers with tempting deals. But behind all those bargains is a huge environmental cost: according to the UN Environment Programme the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater (making a standard pair of jeans uses 2,000 gallons of water).

Some clothing brands such as Raeburn are promoting this message today by closing all their stores and disabling their online shop throughout Black Friday in order to promote their “By nothing, repair something” campaign – an important step in the right direction.

Try not to get too distracted by the ‘deals’ (we’ll get on to the truth of this claim below) today and ask yourself the simple question: ‘am I only buying this because it’s on sale?’ – If the answer is ‘yes’, then both you and the planet would be better off if you saved your money.

2. Remember it’s Not All it’s Cracked Up to Be

One of the most important things to remember about Black Friday deals is that they’re not always as good as they may seem. Research by consumer group Which? found that just one in twenty discounts are genuine, with many items actually being cheaper at other points in the year.

In addition to this, Greenpeace did a survey of our shopping behaviours and found that although many people enjoy the experience of shopping, this feeling doesn’t last: “people already own too much and they know it. Around 50 percent report that their shopping excitement wears off within a day.”

In the same report, Greenpeace highlights that “regularly buying too many clothes, shoes, bags and accessories has become an international phenomenon” and that we must curb our consumerism if we’re to preserve our planet.

3. Consider the Whole Carbon Footprint of Your Purchase

In the UK, we do the vast majority of our Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending online – 77% of it according to PWC. This means that there are carbon emissions to consider beyond just the manufacturing process involved in the product you’re buying.

Everything has to be delivered, and every delivery will have a carbon footprint. Thousands of delivery vehicles will be driving around London in the coming week to deliver impulse purchases, which all have to be packaged in cardboard and often non-recyclable plastic film, generating further waste.

Of course this isn’t to say you shouldn’t buy anything on Black Friday, but being aware of the environmental implications of your purchases will help you ensure you’re buying something that you actually want or need.

4. Spend Your Money Sustainably

If you are hitting (or clicking) the shops this Black Friday, then there are plenty of ways to spend your money with retailers who are making a commitment to do something positive for the planet.

As environmental issues take more and more of a centre stage in our conversations around shopping habits, there are companies coming up with innovative ways to turn consumer spending into positive change.

Two such retailers are Patagonia and O My Bag. Patagonia are donating all the money it makes in sales revenue today to sustainability initiatives around the world, and O My Bag are operating a similar scheme with all the money they make on Black Friday being donated to schools in West Bengal.

Maybe one day we can change Black Friday for the better is if we change the way we approach it: instead of thinking of it as a day when people fight over discounted TVs in overcrowded supermarkets, we could use it as a day when we think about our spending habits and seek out the businesses that are doing the most to combat climate change.

5. Basically, Keep a Cool Head

The best way to navigate Black Friday and Cyber Monday is to be aware of what you’re buying and why you’re buying it, and avoid being sucked in by the sea of aggressive marketing campaigns. There are definitely deals to be had, and companies working hard to be sustainable, it’s just a matter of finding them.

It’s great to see some brands promoting sustainability and donating money to great causes, although it is still unfortunately the case that the most high profile companies doing this are not what most people would class as ‘affordable’. Hopefully more and more high street chains will follow suit in the coming years as we take a closer look at the environmental effect we’re having when we shop.

You can certainly use the Black Friday sales to make your money go further for buying Christmas presents or large purchases that are heavily discounted – but three things to bear in mind are: make sure you’re actually getting a deal, don’t buy something just because it’s on offer, and make every effort to spend sustainably where possible.


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