When Good Deeds Go Bad

Want to help stop breast cancer? Just buy a pink toaster. Or some lipstick from Revlon. Or, heck, how about going all out and buying a car to help fund the fight? Or, want to help the earth? Buy “Green Works” cleaning products from Clorox. They’re endorsed by the Sierra Club, so it must be a credible, green, safe product.

As more citizens demand products and services that help us to live a more compassionate, just, sustainable life and prefer corporations that give more than a nod to social responsibility, and as citizens look for actions they can take to make a positive difference, some corporations (and nonprofit organizations) are embracing time-honored techniques in misinformation, exaggeration, deception and/or confusion.

Take the “fight” against breast cancer. In a recent article, Anne Landman of PR Watch explores the phenomenon of “pinkwashing,” defined as “when corporations try to boost sales by associating their products with the fight against breast cancer.” While some companies are just out to make a profit, Landman notes, “The worst pinkwashers exploit the intense emotions associated with breast cancer while selling products that actually contribute to breast cancer” (such as some of the toxic chemicals found in cars and cosmetics).

Landman also observes:
“Few if any pinkwashers mention ways women can help prevent breast cancer -- for example, by quitting smoking, changing their diet, or avoiding unnecessary exposure to harmful chemicals. Some critics say the almost total lack of focus on prevention is because prevention doesn't make money. It's much more profitable to make people believe that their consumer purchases are contributing to a ‘cure.’”
Shopping is one way we citizens have been groomed to “make a difference.” Plenty of other “opportunities” abound. Are you wearing a plastic wristband? Got a magnetic ribbon on your car? Did you participate in Earth Hour? Do you “click for a cause” to feed the hungry, plant a tree, or save a cute animal? Signed an online petition lately? The philosophy that we can take simple, easy, quick actions to make a significant difference can cultivate an adherence to “slacktivism,” which, according to UrbanDictionary.com, means “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” And plenty of corporations are encouraging citizens to join those ranks.

There’s also the ever-popular greenwashing strategy, which can be difficult to discern. Which companies are really serious about environmental preservation and sustainability, and which just want you to buy their product and not look too closely at their practices? A report from several months ago detailed The Six Sins of Greenwashing and examined the claims of more than 1,000 products. And when companies have video ads like this one, who wouldn’t want to believe them?

Pinkwashing. Slacktivism. Greenwashing. Great inducements to seek accurate information and to practice critical thinking before we act.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of klynslis.
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