Author Andrew Lightbown hits out at the environmental cost of Black Friday

Former financial manager and author Andrew Lightbown hits out at environmental and social cost of the buying scramble of Black Friday

Rev Andrew Lightbown
Rev Andrew Lightbown

For one-time financial manager Andrew Lightbown, so-called Black Friday was indeed a dark day in terms of environmental and social costs.

For 17 years, Andrew Lightbown worked in the financial services industry in the City of London and was managing director (retail) of Old Mutual Asset Managers, dealing with hedge funds, unit trusts and pension funds.

After a spell as a university lecturer in business ethics, he was ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

Now, as co-editor of a new book, titled Theonomics, published by Durham-based Sacristy Press, he has spoken out about the greed and consumer-bingeing behind Black Friday.

He says: “Today the world seems to have gone retail mad. The message of Black Friday is spend, spend, and spend some more. And, by the way, don’t stop to think of the impact of your behaviour on others.

“It is estimated that £518m of purchases were made online alone by credit card, so it is clear that Black Friday purchases may result in ever greater levels of household debt

“I suspect that most of the goods purchased on Black Friday will not be cherished.

“Instead they will simply be used in a vain pursuit of happiness.

“But these goods won’t make us happy, for if they did we wouldn’t bother replacing them.

“Black Friday seeks to reduce human flourishing to consumption, and that is irreligious.

“It’s indecent and it plays on the vulnerability of people and on greed and selfishness. People trampling over each other in shops is quite appalling and sad.

“It encourages the ethos of you are what you own.”

Shoppers at an Asda store on Black Friday
Shoppers at an Asda store on Black Friday

With issues such as finite resources, waste, pollution and climate change – 2014 has been the warmest year worldwide on record and 14 of the 15 warmest years have been in the last 100 years – he says there is also an environmental reckoning.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both indicative of a society socialised into believing, by corporations, that all goods are replaceable on a whim,” he said.

“The ethos of make do and mend, and deferring new purchases until an existing product really is redundant, broken beyond use, has long vanished.

“The throwaway culture doesn’t just deplete the bank balances and potential savings of consumers. It also causes significant environmental damage.

“If it is accepted that the majority of goods purchased on Black Friday and Cyber Monday were replacement goods it becomes necessary to ask what has happened to the goods replaced. I have a nagging feeling that when we seek to explain the effects of overconsumption in solely financial terms we miss the point.

“We should instead recognise that natural resources are given for the benefit of all, including future generations, and that one of our primary ethical responsibilities is to pass on our inheritance, to exercise prudent stewardship and, to take a long-term perspective.’

“Yet switch on the TV or go into the shops and you will be encouraged, or should I say manipulated, to believe that your human value is directly proportionate to your ability to consume.

“Consider the strap line ‘Because you’re worth it.’

“And if you can’t just do it because you haven’t got the wherewithal there is a whole industry just waiting to lend you money.”

He offers a prophecy from the North American Cree tribe:

“Only after the last tree has been cut down,

Only after the last river has been poisoned,

Only after the last fish has been caught,

Only then will you realise that money cannot be eaten.”

Theonomics asks if, at a time when economics, banking and commerce are never out of the headlines, if theology is capable of informing, shaping and penetrating all aspects of life, and especially economic life.

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