Black Friday is dangerous – For both students and the planet

November is one of the worst months on the ecologist’s calendar. And on my list, the very worst culprit of wastefulness and unsustainability is Black Friday – the mammoth spending holiday expected to be worth £6 billion to the British economy this year.

It is said that the term “Black Friday” was originally used by Philadelphia police to describe the state of the city the day after Thanksgiving: one bustling with people cloaked in exhaust fumes. Urbanscapes this year might find themselves a little emptier, but Black Friday in 2020 will nonetheless cost our planet more than ever. Tons of individually wrapped packages will be shipped on cargo ships and lorries to millions of households as a result of the unfathomable number of online deals we will soon be served with.

The issue isn’t just that many of us will be buying things we do not need, or that these products take enormous quantities of water to produce (3,250 litres in the case of the average T-shirt). The issue is that the majority of the products we buy and the companies we support aren’t ethically sound. Following recent discourse around fast fashion, some companies felt backlash from consumers on their sustainability and the ethics of their production processes. The heartbreaking collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 put one global Swedish retailer on the tips of many tongues where anti-consumerism is concerned; however, the truth is that many of the companies you wouldn’t immediately consider “fast fashion” are just as bad.

If a company refuses to answer questions about their sourcing and production, or gives you nebulous statements on modern slavery, then make no mistake: Exploitation was most likely involved in the making of your product. 

But what does all this have to do with us students? If millions of other shoppers won’t change the way they observe the holiday, then why should we? Well, this piece isn’t about you, the reader, but about the structural issues surrounding consumerism and the corporations that maintain them. Many students never had a free choice when it comes to observing Black Friday.

Students are financially precarious members of society. In this year’s Save The Student Money Poll, 74% of UK student respondents claimed to have a part-time job to support themselves through university. Hence, for many students, Black Friday becomes the only time of year when students are able to afford more and take part in the consumerism society conditioned us to participate in.

Needless to say, targeting advertising at students who are vulnerable to such deals is not only convenient – it is insanely profitable. Targeted ads have become part and parcel of being a student. Even the front page of Save The Student is plastered with ads for Black Friday deals. I understand the hype – Black Friday is the sort of holiday that makes many of life’s little pleasures more affordable.

But if you’ve made it this far, you might wonder: What can be done? What does the other side of the coin look like? Here are some suggestions.

If you like sales in general, look for the ones by ethical companies – though they might not occur in November as many sustainable companies tend to dissociate their brands from holidays. Ethical companies are plentiful and it would be unnecessary to list them here: Please always make sure to do your research, read reviews, and avoid greenwashing tactics at all costs. 

If you have StudentBeans or another discount account, you may be delighted to know that many progressive, sustainable companies offer discounts. Companies like Levi’s and Uniqlo also regularly produce pieces made with sustainable materials, and the argument has been made that buying these pieces over others encourages companies to improve.

The main perpetrators of Black Friday’s immorality are not students, but those who make clothes unethically, shipping them across the world to the UK before encouraging us to buy them at miniscule prices. I hope you consider not taking part in Black Friday in the future. But above all, I just wish we didn’t have a day dedicated to celebrating consumption.

Image featured above was sourced from: Hubbub Foundation

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