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Which is Greenest? From Black Friday to Giving Tuesday, See How the Shopping Holidays Stack Up

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The holiday shopping season is filled with pros and cons. Here are a few.

This is the second of five articles in our 2013 Holiday Shopping series. Keep looking for these posts to learn how to make gift shopping easier on yourself and the environment!

There are those of us who wait until the last minute to accomplish our holiday shopping, doing so in a frenzy of overpaying, expedited shipping charges, and frantic searches for backup plans for the stuff that’s already sold out. And then, there are those of us who hit the mall the day after Thanksgiving, organized list in one hand, credit card in another.

For those of you who fall into the latter category, no doubt you’ll be enjoying the “shopping holidays” that follow Turkey Day: The traditional Black Friday, and the newer, less-traditional Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday (I personally think that amidst all that shopping, there should also be Spa Day Sunday, but that’s just me). We at Recyclebank were curious — What, if any, are the environmental benefits to these sanctioned shopping days? — so I set out to do some research and brainstorming. What I learned will help you tackle your shopping list with time to spare, and enable you to do it with some eco-friendly consideration.

Black Friday

Most people think that the day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, is so named because the sales figures from the day put retailers firmly “in the black.” But neuroscience researcher (and word-origin hobbyist) Bonnie Taylor-Blake traced the origin of the term to Philadelphia police in the 1960s, who struggled to keep the overwhelming traffic in check while shoppers bustled around the city. Last year, an estimated 89 million people visited stores or shopped online, up 3 million from the previous year[1].

Pro: Black Friday helps kick-start the economy with strong retail sales.

Con: Cars traveling to malls or circling in parking lots for a spot can cause traffic and pollution.

Tip: If you’re heading to the mall with the nearly 90 million other folks, try to carpool with friends or take public transportation to help cut down on all the pollution-expelling autos on the road. And be sure to bring your own reusable shopping bags; they’re not just for groceries!

Small Business Saturday

Who would’ve guessed that Small Business Saturday, intended to boost sales for independent businesses, was founded by a major corporation? Indeed, American Express founded the day in 2010 and it was officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011. Last year, an estimated $5.5 billion was spent at small, independently-owned shops and restaurants on Small Business Saturday[2].

Pro: The day helps to keep neighborhood businesses healthy, which in turn helps to keep communities vibrant, ensure product diversity, and keep money in the local economy, among other things. By shopping locally, you’re also likely using less gas.

Con: Small, independent, and local shops often have a more curated selection than big box stores might offer, so if you aren’t familiar with a specific shop, your day might be spent doing more window shopping than you planned for.

Tip: Part of the idea behind Small Business Saturday is shopping locally. Ask around for recommendations on local shops based on what you’re looking for, and then plan your route accordingly. And remember to think local all year long!

Cyber Monday, a division of the National Retail Federation, dubbed the Monday after Thanksgiving Cyber Monday as a nod to the kickoff of online shopping season. It’s evolved to be a day on which online retailers offer deep discounts and perks like free shipping. Last year, online sales on Cyber Monday were 30 percent higher[3] than they were the previous year.

Pro: Because in many cases, products are shipped directly from distribution centers to consumers (rather than having an extra trip to a store), studies show that online shopping is actually better for the environment than driving to a store.

Con: Many online retailers are guilty of packing small things in giant boxes, and using large quantities of packing materials like Styrofoam, which is difficult to recycle.

Tip: Even when there’s free shipping, try to order as much as you need at once, so that items can be packed and shipped in the same box, which saves packaging and maximizes the resources used in shipping.

Giving Tuesday

Hopefully after three days of shopping you’ve saved some of your energy, because the day after Cyber Monday is Giving Tuesday. The 92nd Street Y in New York City, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, founded Giving Tuesday as a day to focus not on giving, but on giving something more, via donations, volunteering, and education. Last year, more than $10 million in donations[4] were processed on the first official Giving Tuesday.

Pro: This annual event is a good reminder to give back, even in a time of year in which it’s easy to become very focused on spending money on stuff.

Con: It’s important to remember that being philanthropic and community-minded should happen the rest of the year, not just on this day.

Tip: Check out the partners on the to find an environmentally-focused cause. The current list of partners includes organizations focused on conservation, energy reduction, climate change, composting, ocean issues, and more.

Result: So which is the greenest? Certainly a day focused on giving back is most likely to make the best impact, but in the end it depends on how you treat each day. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to be able to cut down on excess gas usage driving to and from stores, and excess packaging from multiple online shipments. Check out Holiday Shopping, Simplified for tips on smart holiday shopping prep.


1 National Retail Federation
2 Shop Small
4 Giving Tuesday

What are your holiday shopping plans? Any tips to keep them green? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.