E-Commerce and Sustainability – How Bad Is Black Friday Really?

November 25, 2022

Today, we are once again going to witness record-breaking sales during the second biggest online Shopping Bonanza in the world known as Black Friday. This comes merely two weeks after the China’s Single’s Day, the clear leader with more sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. With all major brands massively discounting their products, November has become one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year.

It is not difficult to see that e-Commerce is here to stay. But what do these eye-watering figures mean for the environment? Let’s take a closer look.

The Environmental Impact of E-commerce

It will come as no big surprise that the e-commerce trend has a pretty horrific impact on the environment. Here are the two most problematic areas:

(1) Over-packaging

Product packaging causes a large part of CO2 emissions. The three main issues are the production of plastics, the pollution of ecosystems and the enormous amounts of waste. 3 billion trees are pulped yearly to produce the millions of paper cartons needed for shipping. (4)

(2) Shipping, One-day Delivery and Returns

Shipping emissions are another impact hotspot for e-commerce companies. In 2020, the shipping and return of products made up more than a third of total GHG emissions. (3)

Making matters worse is the option of one-day delivery, especially for Amazon’s more than 150 million “Prime” members across the world (7). Delivery companies cannot wait for all the products to arrive before shipping them and so they are forced to send out half-full trucks, which causes additional and wholly unnecessary traffic and emissions. (3)

Finally, online retailers, no matter their size, need to offer an easy and often free return policy to appeal to customers. As a result, return rates have exploded. More than a third of purchased items will be sent back, increasing emissions yet again (5).

Destroying millions and millions of brand-new products

What happens to returned products is often extraordinarily wasteful.

“From all returns, there’s now nearly 6 billion pounds (2.7 billion kg) of landfill waste generated a year and 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions as well,” says Tobin Moore, CEO of returns solution provider Optoro. “That’s the equivalent of the waste produced by 3.3 million Americans in a year.” (8)

Even more shocking, for Amazon the term circular economy does not seem to exist. In 2021, an Amazon UK ex-employee revealed to ITV that at the Dumferline branch at which they worked the target was to destroy 130,000 items a week. (9)

"I used to gasp," says the anonymous source. "There's no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed: Dyson fans, Hoovers, the occasional MacBook and iPad; the other day, 20,000 Covid (face) masks still in their wrappers." (9)

Dumferline is just one of 24 fulfilment centres in the UK. This means on average 520,000 products being destroyed per month and over 6 million per year at just one plant. This equals to around 150 million items across all branches in the UK alone. (9)

Amazon is not the only eCommerce website in the world, but aside from Chinese Alibaba it is the largest, and its negative impact on the environment through profit-oriented actions is becoming increasingly clear.

Building a more Sustainable Consumption System

In the end, there needs to be radical change. As Martina Igiri from points out quite rightly:

“As long as companies keep promoting overconsumption, selling cheap goods and focussing on efficiency and convenience over environmental values, this industry will keep having catastrophic consequences on (sic) the environment.

What is really needed is a change in consumers’ behaviour and this has to be triggered by companies themselves through […] the promotion of new values that are more inclined towards sustainability rather than profit.” (7)

Never has this been more accurate than during Black Friday. The discount day has become the epitome of our throw-away society. It is simply not feasible for things to continue in the current vain.

IKEA Austria - Bucking the Black Friday Trend

So, is there any good news at all? Let us leave you with one example of companies that are eschewing the Black Friday frenzy.

In 2022, IKEA Austria has moved away from Black or Green Friday completely. After their successful Green Friday campaign in 2021 (#BuybackFriday), during which customers could return used furniture and get a credit voucher worth up to 50% of the item’s original price, IKEA Austria decided not to develop a special offer for the seasonal theme this year. (10)

“In 2021, we motivated customers to return IKEA products they no longer needed to our Circular Hubs by doubling the purchase price. By now, the Circular Hubs have become an integral part of our offering and are very well used throughout the year,” says Florian Thalheimer, the Sustainability Manager for IKEA Austria.

He explained that their decision to step back from Green Friday was for the same reason why the company has not introduced their own "green line", as many other companies have done.

“Our attitude and goal is that all of our approximately 12,000 products are sustainable - not just a "green line" of selected products. Likewise, it is our stance that we want to provide sustainable offers and promotions throughout the year, not just during the Green Friday period.”

Indeed, since 2018, the "Second Life" campaign running all year round in Austria has given used IKEA furniture a new life. Customers resell their furniture to the Circulur Hub, where it is resold clearly marked as used furniture.

The service has been well received. While 572 products were given a second life by customers in 2018, this figure had already risen to 3,623 products in 2022.

Optimising your impact by making your products more sustainable

Are you an F&B brand or retailer? Then listen up!

Rather than making half-hearted attempts at being sustainable for Black Friday or any other day, let us work with you to make a true shift towards sustainability.

One important step to achieving a more sustainable business model is optimising your production processes. At inoqo, we identify the impact hotspots along your value chain and support you in finding alternatives with a lower impact.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, just send us an email at We look forward to hearing from you!

November 25, 2022

by Laura

from inoqo

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