You’d need to be living under a rock to have not noticed the reams of advertising surrounding one of the biggest days in the retail calendar: Black Friday. To call it a ‘day’ has now become an understatement, with many coining the days preceding as Black ‘fiveday’ and today extending the hysteria further with Cyber Monday. Many UK consumers are now lobbying to call it a day in the proverbial sense, with the environmental impact of peak retail trading and fast ecommerce only too familiar. Over the course of the week, there have been many harrowing stats shared, highlighting everything from carbon emissions, logistical miles, single use and unsustainable packaging, unethical supply chains and fast fashion in landfill. Beyond that, the advertising industry itself brings its own contribution in terms of carbon emissions, as Jax Davey, CEO of Nuevo highlighted at this year’s Blue Earth Summit. The UK Advertising Agency produces more than 84,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, or the equivalent to the annual output of 15,500 people.
It’s not a pretty picture, with an underwhelming conclusion to COP27, energy and cost of living crisis and the Qatar World Cup keeping consumption concerns high. But, the bigger picture here is that a ‘day’ like Black Friday can spread awareness, and give consumers the opportunity to hold their favourite brands to account, make more ethical choices, and similarly for retailers to reexamine their supply chains to empower sustainable and ethical consumption.
In the follow on from COP27, we spoke to Kate Larsen, Blue Earth Summit Ambassador and Founder of SupplyESChange which trains on supply chains ESG, human rights and sustainability. Kate shared that ‘The past month has seen big progress on EU business human rights and environmental due diligence in supply chains legislation. Citizens helped cause this by funding environmental non-profits. We at SupplyESChange are glad to now be busy helping more companies learn how to use tools like the IPE water and air emissions data map and more to meet the emerging new expectations that brands better engage suppliers to cause and reward carbon emissions reductions and other environmental improvements.’
It would be nigh-on impossible to write an article on retail and the environment in 2022 without mentioning Patagonia, and rightly so. Over the course of Black Friday, the brand hosted workshops at all of their retail stores to show consumers how to repair their gear and up-cycle what’s beyond fixing, calling out on Instagram that ‘a little stitch goes a long way’. Although this ethos has been foundational for Patagonia and many other brands for years, they’re certainly holding the torch in 2022 and setting the standard for both retail and consumer habits. It proves that sustainability is no longer just a check-box, and with greenwashing accusations left, right and centre, to be truly authentic and planet-focused, brands must be accountable.
The retail holiday is increasingly putting brands in the spotlight, where consumers are demanding more accountability, being more discerning when it comes to ‘eco’ claims and greenwashing, and focusing on sustainable consumption and giving back to the planet where possible. On that basis, could we bring the environment back into black, and use this opportunity not only to give back, but spread awareness too? Brands are being held to account for their ‘eco’ status, and we now have more access to data to be able to do the due diligence too.
‘At the macro level, the good news is that there are now easier ways to help our society leapfrog the COP27 hiccup and, as individuals, help cause the change that we need. For example, you can move your pension, ISA or investments to greener ones with a tool like MakeMyMoneyMatter UK, or the Big Issue’s ethical new options at BigExchange.com.’
Kate recently recorded a Blue Earth Summit podcast where she explored the impacts of retail clothing purchasing, and practical ways that we can shop in a more ethical way, as well as her work at SupplyESChange. ‘As those Black Friday ‘deals’ come in, supporting the eco shift now means that we can protect our beaches and rivers, for a more stable climate to enjoy our great outdoor gear in. ‘
Even with more conscious buying habits, the cost of living crisis has tightened budgets and many have seen the holiday as an opportunity to secure gifts and desired items at reduced marketed prices, so even with muted predictions, retail sales remained buoyant, with Adobe Analytics data showing that online spending on Black Friday was up 2.3% year-on-year, reaching a whopping $9.12 billion in the US. The jury is still out in the UK, but today’s Cyber Monday spend is predicted to reach £1.46 billion according to analysts at Statista.
2022, despite these rising habits, has seen a greener tint to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the ensuing peak retail trading periods. As consumers continue to educate themselves and scrutinise brands, retailers also have more means and motivation to drive more sustainable, ethical operations for the good of the planet and of their audience too. The holiday has served as a spotlight for that purpose, and with business’ role in changing behaviours and driving change, this focus will only strengthen as we move into 2023.
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