Black Friday: because shopping is fun, but should it be greener?

In Europe we look with wonder at the millions of Americans who line up in front of Walmart to get their hands on a good bargain the moment grandpa puts down his fork after a convivial turkey dinner. ‘Black Friday’, the day after Thanksgiving, marks the official start of the holiday shopping season in the United States. Retailers use the hype created around the tradition by offering appealing discounts that move consumers to camp outside of stores waiting for the early openings. This year, the National Retail Federation estimates 147 million Americans will start their holiday shopping during the Black Friday weekend, boosting sales of retailers who hope to clime out the red numbers into the black.

So what exactly is moving American consumers to give up their precious night’s sleep and spend hours on end queuing up to spare a few bucks? Fact is that for many, bargain hunting the day after is just as much of a tradition as the turkey and pumpkin pie on the night before. The rush of finding that two-for-one and being able to give your family members that extra special present under the Christmas tree can be a truly satisfying experience.

However, not everyone is thrilled about the exorbitant expression of American consumerism that heralds the holiday season every year. Reoccurring stories about fights and stampedes of frenzied shoppers have led to a somewhat tainted reputation of the tradition. In recent years, retailers themselves have become the cause of resentment due to their decision to move up opening times to 9 and even 8 p.m. on Thursday, nibbling their way into the sanctity of Thanksgiving Eve. Both employees and families are starting to grow weary of the relentless efforts of retailers to maximize their profits at the cost of family tradition.

The upside to all this fuss is that an increasing number of citizens and companies are seizing the discussion about Black Friday as an opportunity to push for positive change. Last year, Patagonia published their surprising and inspiring “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad on Black Friday, encouraging consumers to think about the environmental impact of their behavior. This year, too, the call to use Black Friday as a moment to vote with your money and choose for sustainable alternatives is growing louder.

That definitely sounds good to us. Almost as good as a slice of pumpkin pie.

Written by Leontine Gast and Jacobien Crol