A Greener Holiday: How To Shop Consciously On Black Friday

November 16, 2018

Thanksgiving conjures memories of food and family, the Macy’s parade, and tryptophan-induced naps. Today, most families spend the holiday frantically scanning through catalogs, plotting their all-night shopping sprees. The history of Black Friday is widely contested but it has generally been considered the official start to the holiday shopping season. A profitable weekend for businesses and a thrifty opportunity for consumers, at face value Black Friday is a win-win. However, in practice the opposite is true as the tradition has devolved into a greedy consumerist hellscape. The droves commute to malls and shopping centers, fill their carts with needless sale items, immediately toss out the packaging, and plug in all of their new electronics. These activities have an impact on the environment and it is the consumer’s responsibility to make informed decisions in regards to their own carbon footprint. 

The Negative Impacts of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The first being transportation, whether by plane, train, ship, or truck; an increase in shipping equals an increase in emissions. 90% of the world trade occurs via cargo ships and with loose environmental regulations, shipping emissions are estimated to account for one-fifth of all emissions by 2050. Free two-day shipping is a marvel of online shopping, but it doesn’t allow for the most efficient use of cargo space. Instead of consolidating as many orders as possible, the items are rushed to the consumers, often wasting space and necessitating more shipping vehicles in the air and on the roads. Electronics are quite popular during Black Friday, as they offer some of the best bargains of the season. This is cause for environmental concern for a few reasons: first, the specialty packaging needed to protect electronics in transit are often made from composites of plastics that are difficult and costly to recycle. Second, electronics such as televisions, gaming consoles, computers/tablets, cell phones, appliances, etc. require electricity to run, thus creating a larger demand for energy. In Minnesota, most of this energy comes from coal-powered plants which further contaminate the environment. Many toys are packaged in single-use plastic components as well, and are often tossed out without regard for the growing landfills. 

How to Shop with the Environment in Mind 

Fear not, for there are a few ways that you can still participate in the shopping while leaving a smaller carbon footprint. First, you could hold off on spending one day longer and participate in Small Business Saturday. Recognized by the Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has profited $85 Billion to small, locally-owned businesses over the past 8 years5. You produce less emissions by shopping local and depending on the store, you might be able to find locally-sourced goods as well. Second, if you are shopping for presents a great way to reduce waste is to gift services instead of goods. Some websites such as Groupon offer certificates for everything from haircuts and manicures to tennis lessons and pottery classes. Finally, if there is a deal that is just too good to pass up on, you can choose the normal delivery option for your packages which allows for maximized cargo space and more efficient transport. 

All in all, it is important to remember the spirit of Thanksgiving and to treat our environment with a great deal of care. These suggestions remind us that what truly matters is family, friends, and community. In the words of John Lennon, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace”.