The Environmental Impact of Black Friday | Goldberg Segalla

Consumers spent a record $9.12 billion shopping online during Black Friday this year, and are expected to spend $210.1 billion this holiday season, according to Adobe Analytics. That’s an anticipated increase of 2.5 percent from 2021.

Each year, holiday shopping statistics prompt a look at the environmental impact of consumerism in the United States and around the world. Black Friday and the surge in spending during the holiday season, sparks conversation regarding environmental concerns involving waste, emissions, “fast fashion,” and most recently Environmental, Social and Governance — commonly referred to as ESG — which is a framework used by investors when assessing an organization’s material risk and growth opportunities,

Waste

In 2019, a UK study focused on Black Friday spending found that up to 80 percent of household plastics and textiles, and any associated packaging, end up in a landfill or incinerated. The study further found that when it comes to electronic waste— (electronics comprise a large percentage of Black Friday purchases) —nearly all goes to low quality recycling when entering the waste-management system. Another study reported that the amount of e-waste in 2019 reached 54 million tons, and only 20 percent was recycled. Additionally, the EPA has reported that U.S. households dispose of 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than any other time of year, as new items are purchased and old items are disposed of, despite many of which being perfectly usable.

Emissions

In 2021, another UK study estimated that deliveries of Black Friday purchases made online were responsible for an estimated 386,243 metric tons of carbon emissions in the U.K. alone. This is said to be equivalent to the emissions released by more than 215 flights between London, England and Sydney, Australia. Worldwide shipping accounts for nearly 3 percent of global emissions, and experts have opined that by 2050, that figure could reach 17 percent. The conclusion: “free shipping” is not free.

Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion is the term used to describe cheap, mass-produced trendy clothing, with new collections introduced continuously. While the environmental impact of Fast Fashion is a year-round concern, it is highlighted this time of year, with retailers offering hefty discounts on already low-priced clothing. It has been reported that the fashion industry comprises 10 percent of total carbon emissions and is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply. It takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, and 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. That’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups of water per day for over ten years. Fast fashion also implicates pollution concerns, as textile dying is the world’s second largest polluter of water and just washing textiles results in the release of microplastics into water sources.

ESG

Consumers are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable about sustainability, and making conscious efforts to purchase from companies that have committed to certain “green” initiatives. Movements opposed to Black Friday, adopting titles such as “Buy Nothing Day,” or “Green Friday” for the day after Thanksgiving, signify a push toward sustainability. Some companies seek to address this by marketing donations of their Black Friday proceeds to environmental causes, and pushing consumers to purchase their products second-hand through the companies’ own programs. At the moment, these organizations are in the minority, and retail giants continue the status quo. However, with increasing pressure from investors and younger generations that have outwardly expressed a willingness to change, the Black Friday “holiday” could begin to take on a different form in the coming years.  

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