by Aryn Aiken
Thanksgiving has always been a day for reflection, gratitude, and communion with loved ones, but in recent years the final second of Thanksgiving has also become the start of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday sales start at midnight and many people make them part of their Thanksgiving weekend ritual. While most major retailers have embraced this rushed and chaotic 24 hours of deals, deals, deals, many environmentally-minded stores have taken the rise of Black Friday as a chance to highlight how consumerism can overshadow what they find to be most important in their core values.
In 2011, Patagonia ran a full page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday telling customers in bold font, “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET.” In their blog post about the puzzling request, Patagonia said, “It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on.” And they did so with the paragraphs of text which accompanied the image of their product, writing, “Black Friday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red. We’re now using the resources of one-and-a-half planets on our one and only planet.” They question the culture of overconsumption which institutions like Black Friday foster. These sales promote buying on impulse and purchase things because they are cheap instead of out of need. They create a culture of needless waste.
This year, REI took this message against Black Friday a step further by closing their doors for the day and challenging their employees and customers to “opt outside.” Their CEO wrote, “For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth. We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.” What resulted was over a million pledges to skip the sales and hit the trails and #optoutside became a social media movement of hundreds of thousands of people which the company plans to build upon in January.
The clientele of Patagonia and REI are already those who see the value in being outdoors and want to know that these companies are just as dedicated and invested in keeping our planet healthy. It may seem pointless for Patagonia to tell their customers to think before they buy another jacket or for REI to tell their customers to go outside, but these ads, when they gain traction, start a greater dialogue on how we can change our cultures staggering level of consumption. Waste not, want not.