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The Environmental Impact of Black Friday

Black Friday has come around again and the holiday shopping season is kicking off. We all know that the holidays are a time of excess.  The level of packaging and waste over Christmas can be horrendous.  There is also massive environmental impact just in the sheer activity level of Black Friday.

Buy More StuffMichael Holden / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We had to dig back to find figures on this to a 1999 study by MindClick SGM and GigaOm. They concluded that Black Friday was 50 times worse in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than Cyber Monday. That is weighted by the fact that retail sales are still much greater than online sales volumes. In general, the study found that purchasing online was 15 times better in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than purchasing retail. That still sounds like a pretty massive difference.

Thanksgiving weekend sales show no signs of slowing over the years and although more and more online shopping is taking place, retail sales continue to grow.

National Retail Federation figures for Thanksgiving weekend sales:

Year Total Retail Spend
2011 $52.5 billion
2010 $45.0 billion
2009 $41.2 billion
2008 $41.0 billion

Online shopping is not confined to Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving day itself is growing as a major day in the calendar of online shopping. As shoppers log on to browse and research their purchases before Friday, they are increasingly finding offers and attractive shipping that are compelling.

The holiday season, from yesterday through Christmas, traditionally sees a massive increase in waste, gas usage as we travel and electricity usage as our homes are lit and full.

The economic activity of Black Friday is bound to have an environmental impact. We could stop it by not buying anything but that’s not going to be good for the economy or Christmas.

We have to buy stuff at some stage. We have to have fun and family also.

What we can do is reduce waste, minimize packaging where we can, purchase online and examine our shipping options and maybe buy gifts that are more eco-friendly.


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