Seems like the madness and shopping frenzy of Black Friday and the subsequent Cyber Monday or in many cases – Cyber Week – is still with us, right?
The truth is, we’re now closer to the Christmas season territory, and yet it feels like we’re not really done buying new things.
First, the deals were simply too good to pass up on; now it’s about the gifts.
A lot of companies lure their customers in with sales, bargains and special limited-time offers. And everyone’s happy – they sell more and their clients get the same products for less money. At least in theory. Round and round it goes.
Nowadays, Black Friday is among the most anticipated events of the year for so many people. Time to finally get that one thing they always thought was too expensive – a new piece of jewellery, a smartwatch, a set of luxury bamboo towels or that stunning natural bath mat.
For the past decade, Black Friday shoppers have been making headlines, year after year, due to their questionable behaviour and, let’s call it, fierce determination.
We’ve all seen the videos from the U.S., capturing plenty of different, often truly unsettling, incidents, fights and scraps with people flooding into the store, breaking doors, injuring others and knocking things down.
The whole picture is nothing pretty, but after the global pandemic, things seem to have slowed down. The shift in trend and how much online shopping has come into play definitely have something to do with it.
Stores are not overflowing with overeager customers anymore - and we can probably still hear a loud collective sigh of relief from the retail store workers around the world.
But how did it all start as an international event?
What's the real story of Black Friday?
To answer that question, we have to take a little trip to the United States of America.
The day is 24 September 1869. This is when a smart intrigue meticulously devised by two Wall Street financiers completely fell apart because of the government intervention.
Their plan was simple – leverage the connections they had with the Grant Administration, buy out as much gold as possible, cause prices to go through the roof and reap profits.
This way, they would corner the entire US economy. They came pretty close, as even with attempts to stop the whole thing, the stock market plummeted. People made and lost fortunes in a matter of minutes. That’s when the term Black Friday was coined for the very first time.
The real story of the retail bonanza we’ve grown to know and love so much is a bit different. Police of Philadelphia adopted the term back in the 1950s to describe the chaos that would always ensue on the day after Thanksgiving.
This is when they had to face the mix of shoppers, tourists, traffic, crowds and shoplifters. Long hours and a real headache – a dark Friday indeed.
The Aftermath of Flash Sales
Fast forward to today, and this American tradition has spread to pretty much every corner of the world. We often give in to the frenzy without thinking twice.
After all, what does a shopping holiday have to do anything with the environment? As it turns out – a lot.
Even though retail stores are making a comeback with a 20% higher footfall at the beginning of 2023 compared to 2022, online shopping is still the go-to choice. And that jacks up emissions for many reasons.
It’s not just shipping and deliveries – it’s everything, from manufacturing, energy consumption in warehouses and storage facilities to packaging, disposal, waste and even payment processing.
Last Black Friday week generated about 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 because of deliveries and transportation alone, which is about 94% more than in an average week.
That is a huge amount of environmental damage, and for what? According to Green Alliance, as much as 80% of the things purchased in that period go straight to landfills after just a few uses.
It’s also estimated that waste increases by one-fourth in the U.S. alone between Thanksgiving and New Year.
What we also don’t realise is that most of the products we return are thrown away anyway, which obviously adds to the issue of waste.
What alternatives have we got?
If you’re even slightly into sustainability, you’ve probably heard all about supporting local businesses, responsible brands, recycling, reusing and buying second-hand items.
Or making more eco-friendly purchasing decisions, like a natural stone bath mat, a set of eco towels, a recycled polyester jacket or an organic cotton T-shirt.
But there’s actually a very interesting alternative that might just be the ultimate answer to the craziness of Black Friday. And it’s to…
Do. Nothing. And buy absolutely nothing.
That’s the general idea of Buy Nothing Day – a holiday created as a counterweight to Black Friday, which is precisely why it’s held on the same day. Let’s stop for a second here.
By no stretch of the imagination are we suggesting this is the solution to the problem. All of the methods we mentioned and the sustainable approach to life are definitely what the world needs. It’s just a symbol. Taking a stand. A protest, in a way.
Boycotting a single day every year doesn’t amount to much, so what’s the point? We’ll leave it up to you - that’s everyone’s personal decision.
Arguments can be made both ways and of course, there’s no reason to scrutinize or judge anybody for wanting to save money. Same goes for those who want to join the movement. What’s the harm?
What is Buy Nothing Day?
Much like in the case of Black Friday, the origins of Buy Nothing Day aren’t crystal clear. Some reports trace its roots all the way back to 1899.
The first unofficial celebration was held in 1968, but the consensus is that it officially started in 1997. That’s not exactly accurate, since the first event happened in Canada in 1992 as a protest against overconsumption, to finally be moved to the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1997.
Nowadays, Buy Nothing Day is held the day after the American Thanksgiving Day.
Although the name clearly suggests inaction, it was not uncommon for the participants to protest and organise various gatherings in shopping malls or high street stores. Credit card cutting parties, for example.
It seems that the idea itself is very straightforward, but there are also some very inventive additional initiatives surrounding this holiday - like the Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange, where unused coats get to find a good new home.
It’s a great way to spread the pre-Christmas joy and spirit, help out those in need and declutter our closets in the process. At the same time, we’re supporting more sustainable and planet-friendly practices.
Buy Reasonably Every Day
Just by looking at some of the figures included in this very post, we can tell we’re in trouble.
But extreme approaches – doesn’t matter on which end of the spectrum – aren’t a viable solution to the issue. Going crazy one day a year won’t destroy the planet.
Just like abstaining from purchasing anything for one day won’t save it.
But a reasonable approach, responsible purchasing decisions and becoming an ethical consumer just might do the trick.