Shopping till we all drop
Black Friday’s shopping frenzy is a cut-price ticket to environmental meltdown
Posted by Simon Birch.
Of course I blame corporate America. Imported from across the pond by Amazon, Black Friday is the day when high street retailers slash prices to boost pre-Christmas spending and you know what? British shoppers love it.
By the time you read this, we'll be on the way to spending a record-busting £1billion in a day, during one gigantic and chaotic celebration of consumer culture.
Black Friday at Macys, Flickr.
But whilst thousands shop until they drop - or were pushed to the ground in the scrum to grab a bargain - it's the planet that picks up the tab.
“Black Friday was designed to create a shopping frenzy for slightly reduced items that could end up in the landfills by March,” thunders Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack.
“We believe it’s wrong when people are defined as ‘consumers’ and when adverts encourage us to put ourselves in debt to buy goods that we don’t really need, often with unseen environmental consequences.”
These environmental consequences are spelled out clearly by Richard Dyer from Friends Of the Earth:
“Our current consumption patterns are simply unsustainable. We are pillaging the earth’s finite resources while failing to cut climate wrecking emissions. At the same time many people don’t have enough resources for a decent life.”
So much for the bad news.
The good news though is that there are voices shouting out that enough is enough:
“Our message is clear, shop less and live more,” says Michael Smith who organises the annual Buy Nothing Day which this year ran on Black Friday.
“The challenge is to try simple living for a day, spend time with family and friends, rather than spend money on them. Anyone can take part, provided they spend a day without spending."
Smith adds that he's not anti-shopping or against having good-quality stuff around the house.
“We just need to understand the impact that our shopping is having on the environment and accept social responsibility towards the developing world,” says Smith.
“Currently the UK and other wealthy industrialised nations make up just 20 percent of the world's population but we consume 80 per cent of the world's natural resources.”
Of course Michael Smith isn't the only one with concerns. Ahead of this year's Black Friday MPs called on retailers to boycott the event because of the mayhem caused by the crowds with ASDA becoming the first major retailer to wash its hands of the whole event because of the near-riots in its shopping aisles last year
There's are of course also dissenting voices across the pond in America.
REI is one of the biggest outdoor gear companies in the US, but this year the company, which is a co-op, closes its doors today and has given its workers the day off.
“We’re a different kind of company and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently,” says REI president Jerry Stritzke writing on the company’s website ahead of this year's Black Friday.
REI is just one voice though and it's being drowned out in the cacophony of our buy, buy culture.
So just how are we going to wean ourselves off our fatally flawed shopping habit?
Well to begin with our biggest companies must start to accept responsibility for the environmental consequences of stoking excessive consumer culture.
Next, we've got to use our limited global resources far more efficiently.
“Governments must ensure that companies adopt more efficient ‘circular economy’ principles where products are built to last, designed to use less resources and are repairable and recyclable,” says Richard Dyer.
Companies such as Mud Jeans from the Netherlands for example are already operating a circular economy by adopting a radical new business model. This involves shoppers leasing jeans from the company and sending them back for recycling rather than binning them when they're no longer wanted.
The hardest nut to crack though will be disentangling the complex relationship that shoppers now have with their shopping habit which campaigners acknowledge is tied up with deep-rooted issues of identity and self-worth.
"We need action to address the many root causes of excessive consumption through tackling inequality, getting a grip on advertising and encouraging different measures of personal success," believes Richard Dyer.
"This should be more about who you are than what you own.”
Find out about our boycott against Amazon.