Buying With a Conscience on Black Friday

November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving is a complicated time of year. On the one hand, it’s an opportunity for us to come together with family and friends to reflect on our collective good fortune. On the other hand, knowing that just a few hours later there will be droves of people lining up, setting up tents, and munching on fast food (or holiday leftovers) at the doorsteps of shopping malls across the country sort of neuters the “thankful” part of Thanksgiving.

No matter where you land philosophically on this most American of American holidays, you can’t deny Black Friday’s impact on our culture. After all, the reason the day is dubbed Black Friday in the first place is not because it represents some version of shopping hell; rather, it’s because our rampant consumerism is supposed to push annual retail profits—and by extension, our economy—into the black. So feel free to set up a tent and participate, but if you’re looking for how to do it responsibly, we have a few tips for you.

Shop small and support local

We’ve all heard this one a thousand times, but it’s actually one of the best ways to do the whole Black Friday thing with a conscience. This may mean paying a little more, but supporting small, locally-owned businesses creates more thriving communities for all of us. America was founded with an entrepreneurial spirit, and while those big chains represent the apex of that go-get-’em attitude, it’s the little guys that need help competing. It takes a lot to have a storefront, a coffee bar, or even an Etsy store, and the only way each of these brands and businesses can survive is by patronizing them.

Interested in supporting local Denver businesses this Small Business Saturday? Check out our round-up of all the SBS events happening in and around the city.

If you’re going to buy big, buy from a “good” big brand

Of course, we realize that not every small business will carry the kinds of things you’re looking for. (You probably won’t find the new flat screen TV you’ve been eyeing at a mom-and-pop shop.) If you’re going to have to shop big on Friday, consider shopping somewhere that at least has a reputation for being an ethical brand. It may cost a little more to buy someone you love a down vest from somewhere like Patagonia, but you can attribute part of that cost to your helping to make a positive difference in the world.

If you’re going to buy from a big brand, try buying a “good” product

We don’t yet know what all the specific Black Friday deals are, but we can venture some educated guesses: Some outrageous toy will work its way into the Internet memesphere for about 90 days before falling into obscurity with the rest of half-remembered cultural moments (we’re looking at you, Elf on the Shelf). There will also be products and deals designed specifically to make you feel good about your purchase. The cynical among us would say that these are designed to make us buy more stuff, but in many cases, the purchase of these products will also have a direct impact on people, institutions, and causes that need support. Sephora, for instance, will be running a deal on its ‘Fearless’ color of lipstick that donates $10 to Sephora Stands, a program that supports female empowerment classes. So if you’re going to hit the mall or big box store, try to seek out the good stuff.

If all else fails, buy for people who really need it

If, for whatever reason, you’re only shopping at massive companies that have no  ethical benefits to offer the world (but happen to have unavoidably enticing deals), maybe you can use the opportunity to buy for  someone in need. If you want to support a small family that desperately needs winter socks, for example, there’s no need to buy the pricey organic ones from Patagonia when you can buy a whole bunch from Walmart. You may be supporting what some people consider to be the commercial equivalent to the Death Star, but you’re also making a difference in others’ lives. And isn’t that what the holidays should really be about?