How your business can spend a sustainable Black Friday 2021

by Eliisa L.

19 November 2021
0 Comments

We all know that Black Friday sales are a huge deal in today's economy for many retailers. It has become a colossal consumption day, sometimes more so than the Christmas period. 

With the massive buzz around it and such significant profit potential at stake, everyone seems to want a piece of the Black Friday action.

The problem is that the frenzied, often mindless consumption that many brands encourage at this time of year. However, an increasing number of brands are taking steps towards sustainability, trying to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the world. So is there a way to balance both?

The truth is, consumerism can never truly be sustainable as long as we keep producing more products into the world. This being said, we can all make better choices and offer more sustainable options to our customers.

While ethical brands and sustainable businesses raise awareness on the environmental impact of mass production consumerism and try to provide better alternatives on a daily basis, there is also room for other brands to start making an impact on the way we consume, and reaching more conscious consumers.

This blog post will explore how you can still have a successful, profitable Black Friday while also being sustainable and reducing your carbon footprint. Let's start off by looking at how Black Friday is becoming greener

What makes a business sustainable?

Before we get into making Black Friday green, we first need to understand what it actually means to run a sustainable business. In short, it's participating in environmentally friendly or green activities that ensure that processes, products, and/or manufacturing activities tackle our current environmental concerns. In this case, a big part of it is related to the hyperconsumption of goods and waste disposal.

While there are countless ways to drive sustainable consumption, here are some of the most common ones:

Working with ethical materials & processes

Being a sustainable brand can mean a lot of many things. Sustainability can mean anything from focusing on the production process itself or the use of sustainable materials. For example, in the case of sustainable fashion brands, one way they do things is by sourcing sustainable resources or organic and recycled materials.

Another way is participating in fair trade practices like safe and sustainable labor methods, supporting local producers and materials, and so on. Many brands also have moved towards making sure their consumers know how much CO2 emissions their order is causing, and using things like recycled packaging.

Unfortunately, since consumers are much more conscious when making purchase decisions, many brands use "eco-friendly" labels or claim that they're sustainable rather loosely. It's always a good idea to do a little research of the brand and find out whether they're really doing good or if it's just greenwashing.

Providing access over ownership

One form of running a sustainable business, or at least promoting sustainable choices, is by providing renting, on-demand, or subscription services. By providing access, businesses are reducing the need to go out and buy goods.

While this is still widely used with one-time products like sports items for example, that you won't necessarily use all year round, this has been a growing trend within other industries too. One great example is the fashion industry. Businesses like Rent The Runway are providing access to everyday wear, special occasion items - whatever you might need, through renting.

Providing access and running a business with a rotating inventory means there is less need for mass production, which makes consumption a little more sustainable and a little less hyper.

Check out all of the different access economy models.

What is Green Friday?

The movement was started to encourage brands and retailers, who are already seeing the benefits of Black Friday sales, to give back in a way that makes the overall shopping holiday more sustainable. 

The main objective is for brands to work together with their customers to reduce the carbon footprint of Black Friday and other major shopping days, such as Cyber Monday. 

This can be by fighting overconsumption, planting trees with every purchase, using organic or recycled fabrics, or donating a percentage of sales to environmental initiatives, among many other approaches. 

The idea is not to offer excessively discounted goods but rather to offer consumers the chance to make a purchase that has a positive impact. It's an opportunity for brands to truly show their customers that they care about more than just making money. 

And it also shows consumers that if a brand cares enough about the planet to work towards being sustainable at such a busy time of year, then maybe this should be one of their go-to brands in the future too.

Excessive consumerism is a massive drain on the planet's resources. Still, as some people will buy anyway and might even be counting on the discounts to purchase items that they might not otherwise be able to afford, Green Friday initiatives provide a chance to do some good while buying.

What brands have a sustainable Black Friday?

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Despite the outrageous Black Friday sales that businesses make during this time of year, there is also a change in consumer behaviors that is pushing brands towards offering more conscious and sustainable options.

An increasing amount of consumers are leaning towards conscious and sustainable brands over getting a good deal during Black Friday, which is why there is no longer a need to make a choice between doing what's best for the planet and making a profit.

Let's take a look at how some of our favorite brands are spending Black Friday.

REI

There are those who make a statement by altogether refusing to take part in Black Friday. Retail and outdoor recreation services corporation REI has decided to close their stores on that date and swap the shopping for an #OptOutside campaign. They encourage both their customers and employees to spend the day outdoors instead of buying goods, in an effort to make a powerful statement. 

But you don't have to reject the date entirely in order to drive sustainable shopping. 

Patagonia

Patagonia was one of the first brands to make Black Friday green, which makes sense as sustainability is one of their core values. They're experts in how to shop sustainably, and their Black Fridays couldn't be any different. 

On an ongoing basis, they give back with every purchase through their support for "1% for the planet" initiative and set up a second-hand store where customers can trade in their used goods for store credit and purchase second-hand items at discounted prices.

They've been innovating Black Friday since their 2011 "Don't buy this jacket" campaign, where they encouraged shoppers not to buy new goods and instead reduce, repair, or recycle them. Other years they've donated 100% of their Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations or encouraged consumers to "Buy Less, Demand More" from their clothes manufacturers. 

They seem to have found the sweet spot between Black Friday profitability through increased sales and sustainability in line with their brand values.

Deciem

Deciem is another brand that knows how to do Black Friday better. Instead of fast shopping, they encourage slow shopping by offering a discount during the whole month of November, so no one is enticed to buy things without thinking just because they're cheap. 

They also have education campaigns to make sure that consumers buy precisely the products that are right for them and that they need, reducing the waste of impulse purchases that are often swiftly thrown away.

And in the spirit of making Black Friday green, footwear brand Allbirds decided to not only not discount their products but to raise all their prices by $1. The money raised would be matched by the brand and donated to Greta Thunberg's climate movement "Friday's for Future."

How can you make a profit on Black Friday while staying sustainable?

Things like Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales make them one of the most profitable days during the year for the majority of retailers and brands. Many even rely on making record-beating sales during the months of November and December.

It's understandable that many businesses don't want to opt-out of this day altogether, but there are a few ways that businesses can participate in making Black Friday more green, without losing potential profits the consumer holiday can bring.

Here are a few ideas to make it more eco-friendly and still make a profit. 

Support green initiatives 

It's not just about how you do things in your business but also about how you support other initiatives in their efforts to make our world a little bit greener. Focus on projects that align with what your brand stands for. 

By letting consumers know why you stand behind specific initiatives or projects, they will understand that their purchase has a positive impact in some way. 

Having a positive social impact can be another big reason people buy from you instead of competitors who don't focus on this aspect as much. It could even become part of your branding strategy.

Focus on experiential gifts 

These tend to have a much lower carbon footprint, and experiences have been shown to drive more long-term satisfaction than purchasing material possessions as they build memories. These could also be an additional source of revenue and a way to build up more loyal, committed customers. 

For example, if you own a bike shop, you could encourage the sales of bike tours or mountain biking classes during Black Friday instead of pushing people to upgrade to the latest model through aggressive discounts.

Offer Rentals

If this is an option for your products, rentals are a great way to reduce impulse buys, letting your consumers try your products before they make a decision on whether they want to purchase or not. This way, the customers that do end up purchasing will be well informed, committed, and loyal, thanks to the shopping experience you've offered them.

Expanding services - even for the holiday season isn't only a great way to increase profit margins, it's also a great way to reach new potential customer bases that are looking into having access over ownership, or overall having a sustainable alternative to consumption.

Here's why you should start a rental business.

Be transparent 

Consumers today want to know more about what you stand for and what impact their purchase will have. They want to know if your materials are responsibly sourced, if you offer fair wages to overseas workers, if you make efforts to reduce packaging and energy consumption, and if you've thought through what happens once your product's useful life is over. 

First, this means that you need to research all of these aspects yourself, ensure you have plans in place to become more sustainable where needed, and then make this information readily available.

Educate Consumers

An effective way to reduce mindless consumerism and avoid having people buy things that they don't need or end up throwing away is to educate them on your products. By informing customers, you're giving them the power to make informed choices and encouraging conscious and more sustainable shopping.

Whether you're running a retail business or a rental shop, educating your customers helps build a bond and more importantly, trust, that will help ensure they will turn into loyal customers and advocates for your brand.

Offer eco-friendly options in your range of products 

This could be a range of products that you offer that use recycled raw materials or sustainable, natural fabrics. In doing so, you're encouraging your consumers to make choices that will have less impact on the environment and encourage them to see it as part of their everyday lives.

Offer discounts on second-hand or refurbished purchases 

This might not be the best option for all products, but it's an excellent way to be able to offer your consumers some great discounts while extending the life cycle of existing products. 

As long as consumers are clear on exactly what they are buying and how it's been used or repaired, it can be a great way to encourage sustainable shopping and avoid having to throw away customer returns, products with damaged packaging, or sample or exhibition models. 

If you really want to go all-in, you can take a page from Patagonia's book and offer repairs on used products, as well as the chance to bring in worn or used products and trade them in for store credit.

Be true to your brand

Most importantly, these initiatives need to be aligned with your brand's core values and day-to-day practices. Consumers today are becoming more and more informed and starting to smell the greenwashing from a mile away. 

Many fast fashion brands are being bashed for promoting "eco-friendly" lines made with recycled cotton or ocean plastic while their very business model is still at the core of environmental issues with their promotion of overconsumption and throwaway mentality.

And at the same time that brands promote their latest environmental campaigns, new reports are unearthing terrible working conditions in their overseas production factories, taking away credibility from the sustainability efforts they're doing in other areas.

True sustainability actions can be profitable, but they must be authentic, coherent with the brand's overall values, and consistent with what you do the rest of the year

Moving towards a more sustainable way of doing business

When you get started making changes, it doesn't mean that you have to be perfect and get everything right today. The road to sustainability is truly a learning path, and changing sourcing, manufacturing, or retail strategies can't often be done overnight. 

But if you show that you have put thought into making things better in the long term, and not just on one specific day for a publicity campaign, consumers will value the effort.

Through these simple tips, we hope that you can find some inspiration to have a more sustainable Black Friday without sacrificing profitability or sales.

Other articles you might like:

Learn more about what Black Friday means to companies and the planet. 

How the access economy is shaping consumer behaviors

Find out whether running a rental business is profitable or not.

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Eliisa L.

The storyteller that spends her time in the studio, outdoors, or creating the best, most relevant content for rental shops.

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