November 12, 2019
A brief note to say that starting next week, The Loop will be sent out on Thursday morning instead. This change is because on Tuesdays I now edit Fortune’s latest newsletter, Business by Design, which I encourage you all to sign up for here.
Now, on with The Loop:
Yesterday was Singles’ Day in China—a quasi-anti-Valentine’s festival co-opted by retail giant Alibaba Group and spun into the world’s largest shopping festival. The scale of the yearly sale is astounding.
At just one-minute
past midnight on November 11, i.e. the very beginning of Singles’ Day, the
total value of goods processed through Alibaba’s various e-commerce platforms had
already topped $1 billion. Little over six hours later, the figure
was at $20 billion—more than predictions for Black Friday and Cyber Monday
however, is the amount of waste Singles’ Day generates. Last year e-commerce
and logistics firms shipped 9.4
million tons of packaging, according to estimates from Greenpeace. By 2025,
packaging could stack up to 41.3 million tons, the NGO warns.
Alibaba announced Singles’ Day would be “greener than ever” and has implemented
schemes to encourage recycling, designating 75,000 locations across the country
as drop-off stations for spent cardboard.
recycling, shoppers will earn cash rewards or coupons for handing in their empty
packages. Alibaba has had success in “gamifying” sustainable action before,
most notably through the Ant Forest initiative.
Fortune honored in our 2017 Change the World list—rewards AliPay
users for engaging in arguably sustainable behavior, such as paying bills
online, by dishing out “green tokens.” When a shopper earns enough tokens, a
tree is planted in their honor. So far 230 million users have contributed to
the palnting of over 10 million trees.
Financial—the fintech spinoff of Alibaba that operates AliPay and gives its
name to Ant Forest—was recognized as a UN Champion
of the Earth for the reforestation scheme just last October.
Zhou Jinfeng, head of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development
Foundation thinks the scheme is empty and told me he “feels sorry” knowing Ant
Financial won such an award. Planting trees sounds good, but the real focus
should be on preserving biodiversity, Zhou argues.
flaw with Alibaba’s initiatives to make Singles’ Day “green,” however, is that
the shopping festival encourages throwaway consumerism and supports
unsustainable retail practices. If Singles’ Day shoppers were only buying
things to last, Alibaba sales wouldn’t be going up every year.