04/15/2009 09:43 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Black Friday versus Green Retailing

Eight million people are staying home today. That's 8 million people that last year -- on the post-Thanksgiving retail day known as Black Friday -- actually went out with 127 million fellow consumers to go shopping.

For businesses already feeling a pinch, that's a scary six percent drop in the number of bodies coming through the doors today. Retailers are getting prepared for a very black holiday season - one of the worst on record.

Yet in spite of some dire predictions, the economic wipe-out of 2008 hasn't yet hit the green merchandise segment quite so brutally as it might have. Deloitte Touche says the green movement continues to steadily grow, with 44 percent of shoppers now willing to pay more for a green gift for the coming holiday.

The Internet has a lot to do with green retailing's continued success, as it is now the second most popular place for holiday shopping after department and discount stores. It is a lot easier to be assured you'll find organic socks or a Fair Trade beaded necklace on the 'net than it is depending on a neighborhood brick and mortar store.

Unless it's a specialty store that has dedicated itself to the green aesthetic. That was version 1.0 of green retailing, and it hasn't been all that fun or successful. Sometimes these dedicated stores are great -- Joanna Hofring's Ekovaruhuset in New York springs to mind, or the Mirador Community home store in Portland.

But every dedicated greenie had looked forward to the day when major retailers would share the ethos and the aesthetic -- green retailing 2.0. The day when a Whole Foods-style department store opened, for example, or a totally green Gap, or a Fair Trade Costco.

In the cutthroat, race to the bottom world that is retailing, that may not happen. While Wal-Mart is working on creating greener mega stores -- Beijing's opened in October -- the goods inside are not necessarily green.

So how about leap-frogging to green retailing 3.0? This would combine the best of two worlds -- the well-developing empire of Internet-based e-commerce and an expanded universe of truly well-designed and quality-made green goods. An example of an early attempt at this is the Green Home online store, and the UK's Green Store.

However these, and really most e-commerce sites, have been hampered by an inability to give people a full shopping experience. But that is starting to change. Look at Zoomii, an online bookstore that copies Amazon's pricing and shipping policies but lets you browse the bookshelves. Perhaps It won't be long before your own (realistic) Second Life avatar can go in to a virtual store and try on the organic t-shirt and jeans you've been needing.

Seem far-fetched to think that those vast tracts of land now taken up by the behemoth buildings we call "malls" can be replaced by online sites and distributed networks of green suppliers? Well, E-bay probably seemed like a crazy idea not too long ago.

We all want good selection, good quality, and more and more, green goods at a good price. Somebody is bound to make it happen. And soon enough, hopefully, to make the next Black Friday a little greener.