In 2011, the clothing brand Patagonia famously ran a full-page ad in The New York Times on Black Friday telling readers; “don’t buy this jacket.”
“Black Friday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red,” they wrote.
“We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”
The ad didn’t really have its intended effect — it boosted sales by 30% following the run — but it did ignite a serious conversation around the paradox of sustainability.
The modern economy requires us to both participate in the exploitation of the planet while we ourselves are simultaneously exploited for our labour in order to survive. It’s a trade-off that we’re all trapped into making every single day.
Non-consumption is not really an option unless you go full Henry Thoreau and live in an off-grid cabin in the wilderness and make your own clothes. You have to buy things if you want to sustain a quality of life that most of Western culture requires and not doing so will actively limit your ability to live comfortably and provide for yourself and others who may be dependent on you. But we know it all comes at a price.
Patagonia has still not figured it out. They sit uncomfortably between internationally successful commercial retailer and activist organisation trying to save the planet. You’ve gotta spend money to make money, or something, and their latest approach is to simply give all profit to environmental organisations dedicated to fixing up our deteriorating ecosystems.
It’s one option, and certainly better than most are pursuing, but we can’t all be Yvon Chouinard, the reluctant billionaire. Some of us have bills to pay and mouths to feed.
What we can do, however, is draw on this understanding of capitalism and consumption and attempt to put funnel our own money, however meagre in comparison, into organisations that both fulfil our needs for survival and comfort while doing the least amount of harm to the planet.
It’s not laying down in front of a bulldozer in the Amazon, but it’s something. Given the inherent need that corporations and governments have to create demand in the population in order to further sales and the economy — at the expense of the natural world — resistance to consumerism is a radical act.
Their four-day sales event runs just before the big shopping dates of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a challenge to consumers and organisations to do better. They only showcase brands that meet their sustainability framework and direct consumers to products they need that cause the least impact on the planet through purchasing.
Buying things you need is key, with ‘mindful consumption‘ at the heart of operations. Brands they support are Australian retailers that have proven they are either combating environmental issues, reducing their emissions, buying raw materials from sustainable sources, or championing circular models by assessing where they are sitting in their sustainability journey.
Consuming mindfully has been shown to increase sustainable consumption — buying out of necessity, not out of thoughtless want. Studies have even shown that “mindful consumers tend to engage in more savouring and slower consumption that prolongs their enjoyment of products.”
Therefore, not only is the practice better for the planet, it’s better for consumers in gaining satisfaction from the products that they buy which in turn leads to lower consumption overall.
We’ve all got to live under the confines that we find ourselves in. As much as we might want to reject the system entirely and tap out of economies that ruin the things we value, we can only do so much. En masse, that behaviour however has the power to alter those systems, forcing businesses to shift their practices to more sustainable means if they want our dollars.
If you need something, and you want to make sure it’s well made and not leaving a big dent in the Earth, head over to Green Friday on November 18 – 21.
Want more stories about Green Friday? You can find them here.