Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green and Pink Labelling: Making Us Feel Good But Little Else?

I've been reading a lot lately about "greenwashing" and the pink labels for the Breast cancer awareness campaigns.

For instance, did you know that there are now Carbon Footprint labels in Australia and the UK--and spreading across the globe--to tell you about the environmental impact of manufacturing and distributing the product? I'm sure you are aware of the growing range of products you can buy which are pink, carry pink ribbons, or otherwise are supposed to help raise money or awareness for breast cancer research. It's been everywhere lately.

First, let me say, I'm all for finding a cure for cancer--of the breasts or otherwise--but I'm sick and tired of the pink and the cutesy sayings ("Save Second Base!" "Boobies!"). I'm also less than fond of the idea of raising "awareness" for something that people are already aware of--can you imagine someone actually saying, "you mean, people can get cancer in their boobs? impossible!"

I want to raise money to find a cure--not to raise awareness. Too often the organizations behind these campaigns spend way too much money on marketing and administration and too little money on the research for the cure. That doesn't do anyone any good except the people in the organization who get paid for it.

Then there is the fact that we need to make people aware that heart attacks are a far more serious threat for most women than breast cancer--and is getting far too little money and research. And there are plenty of other illnesses which take people's lives which need the attention and research too. I think that the Breast Cancer people have been a bit too successful--making other causes suffer because people feel good donating to this cause--or worse, they feel good buying the yogurt and don't feel like they need to do more, even though buying the yogurt does little for anyone but the yogurt company.

I worry about this pinkwashing, and also the greenwashing, that is starting up in stores. I think it is great that we can find out more info about products--like whether they are local, organic (although let's get a bit more exact in our definitions, please), and environmentally sound. No reason why we can't get more info to make an informed decision. However, I worry about two things: how much we can trust these labels and will people simply feel like they are doing a good thing--while having little to no impact?

There are studies that show that we will sometimes do something "bad" after we've done something else "good" because we think the one excuses the other. Someone may not pick up their litter, excusing themselves as generally environmentally conscious--after all, didn't they buy that "green product" the other day. People may not give money to cancer research because they did their part--in buying yogurt, pink-themed products, and "Boobies" bracelets. That doesn't seem like the outcome we would want.

I think we need to examine products with Eco-Labeling or pink ribbon status and see what good it really does for the cause we care about. If we really want our products to be green, trusting the label isn't enough. We have to really examine the label's claims and who is claiming it--and know our definitions. If we want to raise money to fight cancer, we need to see how much of our money actually goes to the cause, how much to the product's manufacturer, and how much the cancer organization actually does to help fight cancer and how much it does for "awareness."

We can't get so lazy that the labeling companies do all the work for us. Then we are simply consumers driven by marketing, and not people making a difference. I'd rather make a difference!

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