Updated: Nov 15
This article was first published in 2019 for Zero Waste Stockholm
TGIMA slightly less popular version of the well-known TGIF, but one that will take all its meaning on the 25th of November this year as we will celebrate the third White Monday. A celebration of the circular economy and an antidote to the Black Friday mania. Enjoy our White Monday long read!
White Monday is a wonderful initiative from the south of Sweden that has now spread over five countries and is promoting, not the absence of consumption, but another way, a circular way of consuming, focusing on sharing, renting, borrowing, re-using, re-purposing… Indeed, it’s November already, it’s getting darker and colder and we can almost smell Christmas around the corner: the cinnamon and hot cocoa, the candles, the carols… and with all that, the presents. The dreadful presents. It’s quite normal that we would feel grateful for the Black Friday tradition of coming to Sweden all the way from the US, perfect timing for our wallets and our hectic schedules. But let’s take a step back for a minute... Remember the time the word “footprint” mostly referred to the quite delicate trace and shape of our foot in the sand on a beach, a beautiful vacation memory? Today it has become a synonym of our negative environmental impact. More like a heavy and oily Rangers boot trace. A painful reminder of our inability to live in harmony with our planet.
What does it really mean to consume the way we do?
This is not another “shame on you” article. This is just an honest and maybe naive question we all ask ourselves. Some of us have tried to offer the beginning of an answer. We know no one really reads long articles online anymore but we promise to make it clear and juicy. Please bear with us for the next few minutes. 😊
Did you know that by the time a child is 3 years old, he/she can already recognize about a hundred brand logos?
We live in a time and in a society full of contradictions. We are lonelier than ever while more “connected” than ever. We are constantly pressured to work more, spend more, and own more in order to achieve success and happiness... And yet, we grow more and more depressed, disconnected, and dissatisfied. Why? To paraphrase Johann Hari in Lost Connections, “Materialism is the junk food of the soul”. It may taste good at the moment but it’s slowly killing us.'
By constantly pushing us to consume, renew, update, and upgrade through the always more clever use of advertisements, social media, flawless influencers, AI... by repeatedly making us feel inadequate, not “in the know”, not “part of the cool kids” without the next gadget, the next piece of clothing, the latest model... businesses in all industries are massively participating in the creation of a monster: an entire society disintegrating its own mean of survival, its planet, by creating more things and less meaning. One of the best examples of the mindset behind consumption nowadays is the iPhone. We will disclaim right here and now that we are not here to point fingers, or demonize Apple’s users (she says as she types on her Mac next to her iPhone). We all have phones, and no one can really claim their phone is “ethical”. But as always, knowledge is power. It should not come as a surprise that Apple, like many other companies, designed its product with the purpose of making repair almost impossible and as expensive as upgrading to a new product. Those companies and their marketing teams are smart people. They create a need, a problem if you will, and also provide the answer, the solution, the relief. Until the next problem arises.
Black Friday is the ultimate manifestation of our consumerist society, the solution par excellence.
Strategically placed between Thanksgiving and Christmas it arrives as a savior for millions of us looking to save time and money while bringing joy to their loved ones.
While it has been reaching new highs every year in recent years, the concept of Black Friday is actually not that recent. We can trace it back all the way to 1924 when Macy’s first advertised for a post-Thanksgiving sale. It has since then become a tradition that kept on spreading. It is quite ironic to think a celebration like Thanksgiving, a day of giving thanks and sacrifices for the blessing of a good harvest, is somehow now linked to this celebration of consumerism where some people would go as far as fight and steal for a so-called “good deal”. Who has never succumbed to the appeal of a great sale? Let anyone who is free of sin throw the first stone here… But what if instead of shaming and pointing fingers, we congratulated each other for (re)-educating ourselves? For finally daring to ask the right questions.
What do we really know from the things we buy?
Where do they come from?
Where will they end up?
Just a few cryptic symbols on the back of a box, a bottle, or on a tag. Did you know for example, what a pair of jeans goes through before it becomes our new pair of jeans? We invite you to follow the journey of one pair of jeans here (make sure to put the English subtitles). And if you don’t feel like watching the whole video let’s just say that by the time it arrives, it will have needed around 11 000L of water and traveled about 65000 km. We are not the ones to preach mistrust in normal social interactions, but when it comes to consumption, it is time we stop trusting that because we do not see it, a problem does not exist. But in countries like Sweden, it is easy to do. It is a wonderful place to live and it is a country that is on top of most of the good rankings when it comes to well-being, quality of life, access to education, health care, technology, gender equality... and the list goes on.
But even countries like Sweden, the home country of Greta Thunberg, struggle with the environmental issue in, and out of sight.
The PRINCE project (that stands for Policy-Relevant Indicators for National Consumption and Environment) monitors Swedish consumption’s environmental impact both inside and outside the country’s borders and releases various reports. We learn, for example, that "of all the greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, two-thirds occurred outside of Sweden’s boundaries”. In the same year, “except for land use, the majority (60% or more) of the environmental pressures due to Swedish consumption occurred outside Sweden (...); more than 90% of SO2 emissions (an air pollutant) and more than 80% of the water consumption occurred abroad.” With the explosion of globalization and online shopping, it was only a matter of a few years before the rest of the Western world would embrace yet another American “tradition”, the Black Friday frenzies. In Sweden, the mega sale seems to have started to rear its head in 2013 with only a few stores trying to cut down prices already in November instead of the Swedish traditional “mellandagsrea” between Christmas and New Year. It has been growing ever since. In the USA, Black Friday has now become a none official “day off” with some offices and schools being closed and is extending into a whole “Black weekend” or even “Black week” allowing always more time for extra discounts and deals. In Sweden, while still being quite a recent phenomenon, it has picked up relatively quickly in the past years. Svenskhandel (The Swedish Trade Federation), which surveys and compile data about Black Friday every year notes that in 2018, four business owner out of ten were planning to have a special deal campaign for the occasion and that almost every other Swede was planning on buying something during this period, whether online or in-store. Starting Christmas present shopping seems to be one of the main reasons for the appeal.
While we will agree that nothing is ever black or white, we have to admit there is one exception that makes the rule: White Monday, a creative response to Black Friday. And in between the two, there are also more than 50 shades of grey.
There are more and more movements and individuals actively refusing to take part in this vicious circle. Their name can sound a bit intimidating: Zero Waste movement, Minimalism, Essentialism… but they really are more about promoting new ways of consumption and alternatives rather than passing judgment and imposing restrictions. They raise reasonable, valuable, and essential questions about what we truly need as individuals but also how by collaborating more we not only reduce our negative impacts but also increase our well-being (two birds, one stone...and less waste!).
At the end of the day, it is very much on us to decide how to look at it. The negative impact is not a question, it’s a fact. What is a question is what will we do about it?
"We can decide to bury our heads in the sand and keep going or we can take on this new challenge and see it as a wonderful opportunity to get closer to the life we truly want to live, choosing where we put our time and money towards what truly matters for us instead of keeping our noses to the grindstone in order to earn more and consume more. And also an opportunity, if not save the planet (to be honest the planet itself will survive, it’s us humans who are in trouble), at least grow and learn as individuals and as a Community."
At Zero Waste Stockholm our ambition is to inspire to reduce our ecological footprint and the amount of waste generated. Keyword: Inspire. We want to encourage positive change through talks, events, activities, workshops… We all work to increase awareness around these questions and facilitate the transition. Whether it is by convincing more stores to allow people to bring their own containers or promoting secondhand buys and swaps... We believe no change is too small to matter. No one likes change. It means discomfort, and to some degree, a loss of control. But change is inevitable, it is the only thing that does not change ironically. And funny enough, through these changes, we are taking over the control. Over what we own, what and when we buy and why. There are so many things that we can do to show appreciation to our loved ones without necessarily succumbing to the latest fashion which by definition will be outdated within weeks. Shared moments and experiences are great ways to enrich our lives and bring us closer together and the good news is, that more and more organizations, cultural institutions, and museums are surfing on the Black Friday wave. See, it’s never totally black or white, it’s what you make of the grey in between. 😊