OPINION: Black Friday is an opportunity for retailers to rethink how profit hurts the planet

by Hannah Nascimento | Given
Friday, 26 November 2021 09:58 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Special discount on Black Friday sales is offered at a fashion store, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Zurich, Switzerland, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Instead of promoting profligate consumption, some brands are using the shopping day to raise charitable funds and awareness of greener buying habits

Less than two short weeks since the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, where we were discussing how to save the planet, Black Friday is upon us. And is predicted to be the biggest year yet, despite evidence showing goods are not actually any cheaper than at other times of the year.

It is almost ironic then that this year’s climate summit saw the highest engagement from brands and organisations to date, with 60 of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies creating net-zero emissions goals and over 5,200 companies, of all sizes and industries from around the world, now having joined the UN Race to Zero campaign.

And yet, with only eight years to halve global emissions and put in motion new consumer habits and shopping practices, it appears even those brands claiming to have put climate action at the heart of their decision-making - committing, among other things, to help customers live low-carbon lifestyles - are failing to connect the dots from their climate strategies to marketing and commercial priorities.

The conflicting interest of profit and planet may not be a new issue, but this year with the gap closing on addressing climate change, it feels even more frustrating than ever.

Retail has been significantly hit by COVID-19, so it may be understandable that Black Friday is an opportunity, but it is imperative that brands begin to make changes now if we are to succeed. 

Having a net zero goal is not enough. Brands must, at the very least, see moments such as Black Friday as an opportunity to promote responsible consumption. Or better still, if you are really serious about climate change, avoid it altogether.

BEHAVIOUR CHANGE

‘Brothers We Stand,’ an ethical men’s clothing retailer is just one example of a brand that is boycotting Black Friday. On the day, you will not be able to purchase anything from its website. Instead, you’ll be presented with three choices: Learn, Stand, or Change, with each choice working to educate customers on important issues, creating behaviour change and taking a stand against brands that do not pay their workers.

Lush, one of the largest retailers to boycott the day, does not discount any items on Black Friday, instead choosing to release a new product that aligns with their brand values and encourages more sustainable behaviours with no packaging.

Both companies demonstrate that you can raise a brand's profile and engage meaningfully with consumers at a unique time of the year, without perpetuating the very models that are so harmful to people and the environment. 

Then there are those brands that are taking part in a different kind of Black Friday, using their platforms to find ways to make buying purposeful. Organic Basics, founded in Denmark in 2015, is still discounting garments this Black Friday but for every order placed is donating €10 to WWF for the Regenerative Organic Cotton Pilot Project. 

Dungarees-maker Lucy & Yak takes a different approach, not offering discounts but instead raising awareness and donating a third of all profits over the Black Friday period to the Fior Di Loto Foundation. The foundation, located next to the first factory Lucy & Yak's products were made in, works to send young girls to school and this will be the third year the two have teamed up. With real-time tracking on the website, to show how many girls' education has been funded and plenty of information about the programme, it’s a refreshing take on how sales can do good. 

Alongside the estimated 85% of independent retailers that will not participate in Black Friday, those brands that are boycotting or taking smaller steps to challenge it are rightly demonstrating it is possible to drive profit while staying true to their values and the critical needs of our planet. 

As COP26 came to an end, many remarked that the hard work had yet to begin, with action plans, roadmaps and finance key to turning commitments into tangible progress. This must start with brands and retailers adopting a "whole organisation" approach to climate change, taking the time to scrutinise and understand how their marketing and commercial strategies are some of the very things standing in the way of them achieving their climate goals. 

Hannah Nascimento is consultancy director at Given, an agency for purpose-driven brands.