On the eve that China and the U.S. signed a deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the Double 11 gala, better known as Singles Day, the Alibaba annual online shopping bonanza, kicked off in China.
This is the first retail event since China began clamping down on surging corporate profit and tech giants, but the contrast between the highly profitable event, which took over 115 billion dollars in sales in 2020, and the realities of the climate crisis at the Glasgow Cop26 summit, could not be starker.
Already global brands such as Apple reported stellar sales, with some taking tens of millions of dollars in sales over several hours. Despite Alibaba and the Chinese government downplaying the festivities, which in other years was equally an entertainment spectacle, the appetite for bargains has far from subsided.
Of the 4bn parcels shipped, 20 percent is plastic
Watchdogs will be monitoring parcel shipping quantities and use of sustainable packinging. There is no denying the sales fest will generate tons of waste. Last year nearly 4 billion parcels were shipped, much of which was plastic.
Last month Alibaba’s chief marketing officer Chris Tung said: “We must leverage the power of 11.11 to encourage sustainable development and promote inclusiveness to consumers, merchants and partners across our ecosystem.”
While hugely successful for retailers, China’s e-commerce giants and global brands, Singles Day comes with a high environmental cost, unaccounted for by the sellers, consumers or the Chinese government.
Black Friday in the west is dwarfed by China’s Singles Day activities, which remains the world’s biggest online shopping festival. Despite a chastened approach, there are no signs the bonanza for China’s retailers will be any less than previous years. Just because there are no fireworks does not mean there is no party.