Should sustainable brands participate in Black Friday?

Overconsumption arguably goes against a sustainable brand ethos

As Black Friday is rapidly approaching, there is a question whose answer is increasingly necessary

Where do sustainable brands fit into this overconsumption fest? To understand it, I conducted a poll on Ethica – Sustainable Fashion Hub’s Instagram in order to gauge the stance of Portuguese consumers on Black Friday. Although its sample should not be considered representative of the entire Portuguese market (let alone the entire population), there were some interesting insights. 

Of the 30 respondents, 63% were against sustainable brands releasing Black Friday campaigns. ‘[For sustainable brands] to take part in concepts that were invented to encourage consumption — because that is why Black Friday was created — seems incoherent, to say the least,’ said one consumer who voted ‘no’.

Nonetheless, several participants mentioned that being against these campaigns is not the same as saying that sustainable brands should not provide discounts in general. As another consumer explained, ‘[sustainable brands] should provide the discounts they want, whenever they want, but I don’t think they should be associated with this type of event that promotes unconscious consumption.’

Despite being a minority (37%), consumers who were in favour of sustainable brands participating in Black Friday were very vocal about their reasons. Most claimed that discounts were essential for them to afford ethical and environmentally friendly products. One consumer even added, ‘we can enjoy Black Friday in a conscious way.’

Gabriela Maciel, sustainability marketing specialist, agrees that Black Friday can be crucial for sustainable brands to reach new customers. ‘Since most sustainable products still ‘suffer’ from a green premium (the difference between the conventional version of a product and its sustainable counterpart), discounts are great entryways to surpass the stage of brand awareness and [reach] conversion. In this sense, Black Friday ends up being an opportunity [for sustainable brands to acquire new customers].’

However, Maciel also understands how these two worlds (Black Friday and sustainability) can collide. So, she advises brands to ‘make their positioning clear’ by reinforcing that first, we need to reduce consumption — ‘but if you really need to purchase something, we are here’.

But what even makes a brand sustainable?

It involves more than simply selling products made from recyclable or biodegradable materials, and it certainly isn’t just using FSC-certified packaging. Sustainability is a business philosophy which, taking from the definition crafted by the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987, helps ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

And overconsumption, encouraged by shopping holidays like Black Friday, goes against sustainable brands’ ethos. 

That is one of the reasons why consumers may see Black Friday campaigns from ethical companies as ‘incoherent’. However, it is not the only one. Because if a brand is genuinely sustainable (from an environmental, social, and economic perspective), should it even have room for discounts?

After investing in the production of regenerative or recycled materials, paying their workers a living wage, and calculating a profit margin that is sufficient to keep the business afloat — but not too big that makes their products inaccessible to consumers — what is left to be discounted? In the case of most small businesses, the answer is: nothing. Nonetheless, this does not mean that sustainable brands should not participate in Black Friday.

They should — but in their own way. Instead of offering massive discounts, dedicate a portion of your sales to an environmental NGO and be transparent about your brand’s commitment to building a better future.

And what about not selling anything during Black Friday? Literally, close the (online or offline) shop for a day, and use that time to participate in collective action against climate and social injustice. Above all, be creative and idealise a campaign that reflects your company’s unique values, rather than copying what works for bigger brands.

Extra tip: If your sustainable brand still wants to offer discounts, avoid calling it ‘Green Friday’. It’s textbook greenwashing.

Featured image: Megan Lee / Unsplash

Mariana Silva, Founder, Ethica - Sustainable Fashion Hub

Mariana specializes in sustainable fashion communication, helping slow fashion brands enhance their marketing strategies. She is the founder and main content creator behind Ethica – Sustainable Fashion Hub, an independent platform focused on consumer education. Based in Lisbon, Portugal, Mariana works as a journalist, covering a wide range of topics from politics to culture

All articles