Just, Green, and Local: A Socially Responsible Antidote for the “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” Blues

This Friday just gone past (November 25th) was Black Friday, the kick-off to the Christmas holiday shopping season that starts the day after Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Originally, the name “Black Friday” referred to a scandal in the gold market that triggered a financial crisis in 1869. More than a hundred years and a bit of revisionist history later, most people now think of “Black Friday” as the first day of the year when retailers move out of the “red” (i.e., operating at a loss) and into the “black” (i.e., not operating at a loss, making a profit). The rapid shift into the black is stimulated in no small measure by offering massive sales in shopping centres and big box stores across the United States—and, increasingly, in Canada and other countries that have seen an influx of US-owned stores.

 

Madness at the malls: The visible violence and mayhem

For many people, Black Friday is given over to a frenzy of consumerism and, increasingly, shopping violence as individuals emulate the ethos of an economic model that seems to run on ruthless competitiveness and getting as much as it can for the lowest cost to itself, with little or no regard for others’ well-being. The advertising strategies for these sales also seem to have little regard for people’s well-being and are psychologically manipulative. According to an article by St. Denis in the November 24, 2016 edition of the Metro Vancouver (p. 8), advertising specialists artificially create a false need or sense of urgency by emphasizing that stores are only offering a limited number of items at the sales price. Because our brains apparently still can’t tell the difference between a real need to aggressively fight for necessary resources (food, water, shelter) and a want that is manipulated into a false “need,” the advertisers successfully whip up an “exciting” competitive energy, with precious little regard for how quickly and intensely that competitiveness can turn into harmful levels of aggression in crowded situations (St. Denis, 2016, p. 8).

According to St. Denis (2016, p.8), in a recent study by a UBC business professor, participants who were exposed to advertising that hypes a limited quantity of merchandise at a discount price subsequently exhibited more aggressive behavior in video games and toward malfunctioning vending machines. In some cases, participants also had increased levels of testosterone: a hormone that is clearly linked with aggression. Over the years, we have seen all too often how this competitiveness and aggression plays out in real life situations: In recent years there have been reports of store clerks and shoppers being injured or trampled to death by people who come to the sales with a “no rules extreme shopping” attitude. This year was apparently just as bad, with the violence extending to parking-lot rage and shootings in three states in the USA (See this story by Daniel Politi at Slate.com).

 

The invisible, behind-the-scenes economic violence

What many of these frenzied Black Friday shoppers —along with the Cyber Monday shoppers, who prefer to do their shopping online, far away from the madness of the malls—most likely don’t stop to consider (or are not aware of) are the unfair trade agreements, exploitative and unregulated work environments, and other systemic economic injustices that make it possible for big box stores or multinational chain stores to offer merchandise at such ridiculously low prices to consumers. But the savings that are passed along to shoppers—courtesy of these unfair trade agreements , exploitative work environments and systemic economic injustices—frequently hurt both the workers (most often women) who manufacture “cheap goods” for North American markets and the store employees—also predominantly female—who are trapped in low-paying service sector jobs in North America. Barbara Ehrenreich observed in her book Nickel and Dimed that while most of us benefit, however indirectly, from those employed in low wage jobs, we rarely think about what those individuals have sacrificed in terms of their own well-being or personal security to provide us with “inexpensive” goods or services.

We are even less likely to connect the dots between the ways in which economic discrimination against women directly or indirectly contributes to violence against women. This year, Black Friday and the International Day to End Violence against Women (observed annually on November 25th) coincided, so it seems especially important to note the links between systemic economic injustices, poverty and violence against women. Whether these economic injustices and abuses are perpetrated by individuals (women in violent relationships are often subjected to economic abuse in addition to other types of violence), or at a broader societal level through economic and social policies and practices, gender-based discrimination continues to exist and persist world-wide. Furthermore, economic policies that keep women in low-paying jobs and poverty in turn contribute to keeping women trapped in violent relationships (see this fact sheet from Canadianwomen.org ).

 

Buy local, be sustainable

In recent years, there has been growing push back from people who cringe at the materialism inherent in and perpetuated by Black Friday shopping frenzies and madness: more and more people are choosing to participate in “Buy Nothing” day as a protest. While this strategy works as a short-term protest, in the long run it doesn’t force large corporations to rethink how their business models (and the economic policies that support them) have a negative impact on the planet and the prosperity of local economies.

Ideally, we want to create long term social, economic and environmental changes for the better, and that’s best achieved by encouraging consumers to regularly choose locally-owned stores within their community when they need to purchase goods and services. That’s a vision that is best achieved by encouraging (and rewarding) both consumers and businesses to adopt more sustainable habits environmentally (reduce waste or unnecessary consumption, re-use materials where possible and appropriate, and recycle), socially (support businesses that demonstrate a commitment both to fair wages and decent working conditions for their employees and their suppliers’ employees) and economically by supporting local businesses and local economies.

Did you know that shifting just 10% of your purchasing dollars to local businesses reaps huge benefits for your local economy? The last week of November is dedicated to promoting local businesses and “buy local” campaigns, so if you opted to give Black Friday and Cyber Monday a miss, consider investing some of those dollars in your local economy. If you live in BC and want to know where to find local businesses, check out the LOCO BC website. If you live in other jurisdictions, see if your Chamber of Commerce has a list of locally owned businesses; if you’re especially interested in supporting socially responsible businesses, check out the websites for B Lab, BALLE, or Green America. Once you’ve found your favourite locally owned businesses, give them some ongoing love by enthusiastically referring your friends to these businesses.

For solopreneurs or owners of microbusinesses, your business is never “too small” to make a positive difference in the world. Here are five strategies that you can implement to get more involved with and support other local businesses and your local economy:

  1. Get involved with a “buy local” initiative. If it’s too late to participate as a vendor this year, participate as a consumer.

 

  1. Join a business association such as LOCO or BALLE, or create a startup group for solopreneurs and microentrepreneurs who run socially conscious, locally owned businesses.

 

  1. Share the love. Do you have a favourite, locally owned business (vendor, supplier, favourite caterer) that you’re super enthused about? If so, be generous about recommending these businesses to your customers and friends. Give your favourite locally owned businesses a shout-out through social media, and don’t forget to like their business pages.

 

  1. Reach out and collaborate with other microentrepreneurs on projects or events that support your community and your local economy. If you run a home-based business, consider joining a coworking space as a means of meeting and collaborating with other like-minded microentrepreneurs.

 

  1. Depending on where you’re at with your business and what feels most comfortable for you, consider either donating your time and skills to a local charity event, or sponsoring a charitable event for a local nonprofit organization.

For more ideas on how solopreneurs and microentrepreneurs can contribute to big changes, check out my book Small Business, Big Change: A MicroEntrepreneur’s Guide to Social Responsibility, available as a print-on-demand paperback format from Night Owls Press and Amazon. If you’re looking for socially responsible business ideas and big rewards for a small investment, then this how-to guide filled with practical tips and proven strategies is your dream come true.

When put into practice, these tips on environmental economics used by real entrepreneurs can help you reach your social responsibility goals easily and feasibly. Using a step-by-step approach to implementing socially responsible business practices, say good-bye to overwhelm and hello to increased sustainability and profitability. Do your part by picking up a copy of this book today.

November 29, 2016   Posted in: Social Responsibility  4 Comments