Photo: Greenwashing is so yesterday, today it's pinkwashing

Pink ribbon tied to painted toes (Credit: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr)

I recall exactly where I was when I first heard about pinkwashing. It was a hot summer day. My vacation in the Canadian Rockies was in full swing — the horses were fed and watered after a day's ride. Time to kick back and relax.

By the light of my headlamp — my third day without a shower — I read Not just a pretty face: the ugly side of the beauty industry, by Stacy Malkan. (I know, so fitting when you're out camping, no makeup let alone a mirror in sight!) Chapter 6: Pinkwashing really struck a cord.

What's pinkwashing? It describes "the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the struggle to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may actually contribute to rising rates of the disease."

A nonprofit group called Breast Cancer Action in the U.S. runs Think Before You Pink — a website urging consumers to take a critical look at pink-ribbon products and promotions. Not that all pink-ribbon campaigns are illegitimate. But before you buy, they suggest you ask some critical questions: How much money goes to the cause? What exactly is it supporting? What's the company doing to ensure its products don't actually contribute to breast cancer?

Transparency is a core value these days — from human relationships to how we vote. So why shouldn't we demand it from companies or charitable causes?

Author Stacy Malkan means business when it comes to pinkwashing. She says "We may get cancer, but at least we'll look good when we do", referring to Look Good Feel Better, a program in the U.S. and supported here by the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association.

Everything I had read about pinkwashing that hot summer day came back to me recently, when a breast cancer patient, Kate Follington, read our Sustainable Shopper's Guide to a Dirty Dozen Ingredients to Avoid in your Cosmetics. She was shocked to find parabens — one of the Dirty Dozen — in most of the cosmetics she received in a care package from the B.C. Cancer Agency. You can read the full story here.

The reality is, half of all cancers are preventable and prevention is our number one tool.

This month join the David Suzuki Foundation Book Club as we dive head-first into "Not just a pretty face: the ugly side of the beauty industry," by Stacy Malkan. Read, join our forum, ask questions and stay connected. The beauty of it all is getting perspective to help you make informed decisions for the future.

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

June 16, 2010

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Jun 26, 2010
2:53 PM

You mean like L’Oreal donating so much money to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, run by Faith Kates, who also owns the Next modeling agency, which represents some of our favorite green super models?

Jun 25, 2010
2:53 PM

Colour me unsurprised.

Jun 17, 2010
2:53 PM

Thanks for the great blog Lindsay! Pinkwashing makes me crazy too — it was the hardest chapter of my book to write because the information is so disturbing. Check out this latest example: is Avon really hawking “breast cancer crusade” water bottles made from the norotious toxic chemical bisphenol A? Join the discussion on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics facebook page!/safecosmetics?ref=ts

Cheers, Stacy Malkan

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