We’re back to that time of year again. The slopes are just about to open. Christmas trees are starting to crowd parking lots. Colorful lights are adorned to houses. And retailers are aggressively offering discounts of all shapes and sizes. The unofficial launch to the holiday shopping season starts at the end of this week with Black Friday, extending all the way to Cyber Monday. This practically five-day shopping weekend is increasing in popularity each year, with more Americans spending more of their paychecks on discounted gifts.
Even though it’s not Black Friday yet, deals are still creeping into our inboxes, lining the borders of our web pages and displaying themselves on big signs in front of stores, tempting us to buy anything and everything from new electronics to convenient kitchen appliances to the latest must-have gear. The National Retail Federation estimates that consumer spending will be up 4 percent this year over last, with 165 million people expected to shop this weekend. Cyber Monday will also set a new record this year with $9.4 billion being spent on the consumer holiday alone, according to Adobe Holiday Shopping Trends.
There are upsides to this growth. Americans are spending more, which is a good sign of a healthy economy. However, the detrimental effects that this high level of consumerism has on our environment may very well outweigh the economic benefits.
Consumers are buying more online than we ever have in history, which leads to a lot more trucks on the road delivering packages. This year, 41 percent of consumers planning to shop over Thanksgiving weekend will take advantage of online deals, according to the National Retail Foundation. In mountain towns, where some of the mainstream items are not easy to find, we probably opt to buy online more than Americans who live in cities where amenities are easy to come buy. Shipping items is an inevitable part of our society today, but we make it worse and put even more trucks on the road when we request fast delivery options or opt to not bundle our orders. Some studies, like the research done by Vox and the University of California’s Climate Lab in 2017, found that regular online shopping (meaning no rush delivery) is better for the environment than going to the store to buy an item, but that cancels out as soon as we click the “two-day delivery” button.
Waste is another big issue when it comes to Black Friday. A majority of the items we’re buying — from toys to clothing — are made from plastic and are not recyclable. And all of these amazing deals are leading us to cycle through our wardrobes faster. The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year, according to the Council for Textile Recycling.
There are companies fighting against the Black Friday trends. For the fifth year in a row, outdoor retailer REI is closing all stores nationwide to encourage Americans to spend time outdoors, while paying their 13,000 plus employees for a paid day off. This campaign, titled Opt Outside, has garnered a lot of support over the years, with 170 organizations working with REI to encourage people to spend time outdoors. Most of us in the mountains will probably join this trend whether we mean to or not since the lifts open this weekend.
We know the problems when it comes to Black Friday, but what are the solutions? We, as consumers, can make little differences in our purchasing around retail holidays. We can opt to have our online purchases bundled together and not rushed out for delivery. We can also choose to buy gifts we know people will use. Repurposed gifts and gifts of service (such as massages or a meal out) are great options. And buying local and from brands we trust to be sustainable are also green options. We may not always make the right decisions, we may cave when we see that ad online, but making small steps towards more sustainable options is a good place to start, especially this time of year.
Barbara Platts will be opting outside on Black Friday, but that doesn’t mean she’s entirely immune to a “can’t beat” sale. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.