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Black Friday: How can the ad industry help tackle climate change?

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 27 November 2020 16:24 GMT

A woman wearing a protective face mask, used as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks past a shop window advertising Black Friday sales in central Kyiv, Ukraine November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

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As consumers try to #TurnBlackFridayGreen, a new report calls for advertising to rein in its impact on the climate

By Thin Lei Win

Nov 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As shoppers scramble for deals on Black Friday, spurred on by frenzied marketing campaigns, critics have called on advertisers to consider how the industry impacts climate change and to shift to a greener model.

Environmentally conscious consumers worldwide are trying to limit the excesses of Black Friday, when people spend billions of dollars on retail goods, and push to make it more sustainable.

Using the hashtags #TurnBlackFridayGreen and #ReclaimBlackFriday on social media, individuals on Friday suggested people shun e-commerce giants like Amazon and buy locally.

Yet while the spotlight may be on retailers, big advertising firms have "largely escaped accountability" despite indirectly fuelling global warming, according to a report by the New Weather Institute think-tank and its partners.

What role does advertising play in the climate crisis and what is the industry doing to tackle the issue?

The bigger picture 

Typically held the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving public holiday, Black Friday has spread around the world.

Environmentalists say discount deals and special promotions synonymous with Black Friday encourage people to go on shopping binges and acquire things they do not need. 

The result? Mountains of electronic waste that leak toxic chemicals into the soil, as well as planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions generated by fast fashion and transporting the products. 

Shoppers stand in line as they wait for a Victoria's Secret store to open on Black Friday, at the Tysons Corner Center, in Tysons, Virginia, U.S., November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

What does the report say?

That the advertising industry "indirectly contributes to climate and ecological degradation through its encouragement of materialistic values and goals, the consumption-driving work and spend cycle". 

It says adverts lead people to place higher value on wealth and consumption which conflicts with caring about issues such as the environment, beyond the individual self.  

The industry also indirectly causes emissions by promoting tobacco and beef, whose production has been linked to deforestation and pollution. Similarly, it encourages people to buy Sports Utility Vehicles and to fly for leisure, both powered by fossil fuels, the report added.   

What is the advertising industry doing? 

Stephen Woodford, CEO of Britain's Advertising Association, said the industry recently launched an initiative, Ad Net Zero, to "reduce the carbon impact of the development, production and distribution of advertising to real net zero by end 2030". 

"This includes the goal of encouraging advertisers and agencies to measure the carbon impact of their campaigns, direct and indirect, which is a good and proven first step towards reduction," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Banning advertising for certain sectors of the economy or restricting retail events like Black Friday "is not the answer," he said, adding that advertising can contribute to climate action by helping to promote more sustainable behaviour.

In the U.S. too, 17 marketing and ad agencies have banded together to form a non-profit organisation called Potential Energy Coalition to raise awareness on climate change.  

Related stories:

Amazon bows to French pressure to push back 'Black Friday' sales

Climate primer: How to debunk myths about climate change

Look at consumption when assigning blame for global warming, study says

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, editing by Tom Finn and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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