Trash Bins, Pink Ribbons, & The Underylying Problems Behind Cause-Related Marketing and Breast Cancer Awareness

A Pink Pal’s cart in the wild, photo courtesy of Jill

You don’t need to be new to my blog to know that pinkwashed products, whether they be license plate frames, Tic-Tac boxes, or vacuum cleaners, are EVERYWHERE. In the last two decades, cause-related marketing has taken the breast cancer awareness world by storm, as companies left and right have teamed up with breast cancer related charity non-profit organizations to sell socially good products that are appealing to consumers. Companies have continued to do this because consumers have continued to buy, buy buy! But one of the huge themes behind my blog is raising a new kind of awareness, to ask myself and all of you a few questions about cause-related breast cancer awareness marketing, such as: What pink washed products are legitimate in achieving their goal of donating money towards effective breast cancer research? Is there a way for a company to sell pinkwashed goods in a truly socially conscious way that disregards profit gains? And what pinkwashed products are actually worth your investment, if any?

With that in mind, over the holiday weekend I received a text from Jill (my nanny growing up/life manager/faux momma/faux sister/best friend/future MOH) with a picture of a pink trash can (see above). She was concerned that the company that manufactured the trash bin, [the] Pink Cart, wasn’t totally legitimate. She wrote, “I checked out their website. Lots of blogs and info. But says only $5 from each cart sale goes to the American Cancer Society. Better than nothing I guess.” 

Jill then sent me another few texts, telling me that she discovered the pink trash bin in the photo wasn’t actually from the Pink Cart, but from another group called Pink Pal’s. So who is Pink Pal’s? Are they affiliated with the Pink Cart? Is Pink Pal’s real? Jill and I both had a lot of questions and very little answers. 

With that in mind, I was eager to investigate. For the next few days, I became a breast cancer ribbon investigator. 

To get some background information, I first researched the Pink Cart. Basically, here’s the scoop. The founder of the Pink Cart, Jo-Anne Perkins, was inspired to start this initiative after both her grandmother and mother died from breast cancer. In what could be considered a weird coincidence, Jo-Anne’s grandmother and mother both passed away at the age of 51. When Jo-Anne reached her 52nd birthday breast cancer free, she told herself that she wanted to make a real impact in her community. As the VP of Environmental Systems and Services at Cascade Engineering, she arranged a partnership between Cascade, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) to found the Pink Cart initiative. Basically, for every 35- gallon, 64-gallon, and 95-gallon Cascade Engineering sponsored pink cart that’s purchased, $5 of your purchase goes towards either the ACS or the CCS.  There are local distributors of pink carts across the country, so when you buy a cart from your local distributor, the $5 donation is processed by either the ACS or the CCS corporate office and is then funneled back to your local community for a wide range of breast health programs. It’s considered to be a socially responsible initiative that poses no PR threat to Cascade Engineering, and if anything, boosts Cascade’s brand equity. 

Now, the Pink Cart initiative may not be the most effective, but I’ll get to that later. For right now, the Pink Cart at least passes the initial smell test. It’s at least real and it seems to have a legitimate partnership with the ACS and the CCS. Fine. But now let’s divert our attention to Pink Pal’s. All I knew prior to the search, based on what Jill told me, was that Pink Pal’s was based in Syracuse, New York. When I went to my trustworthy Google machine, I could not find any actual website affiliated with Pink Pal’s. All I could find was Pink Pal’s Facebook page with an abysmal amount of Facebook likes. According to their “About” section, this is what’s listed, “Every purchase represents a donation to the American Breast Cancer Society. Contact us today to order your Pink Cart! Call PINK PAL’S [insert phone number]” 

Let’s stop and break this down for a second. There are two major issues with their “About” section. 1) How much money is actually being donated with a purchase of a pink cart? At least for the Pink Cart, the consumer is aware that a $5 donation is included with every purchase. But what about Pink Pal’s? And 2). What is the American Breast Cancer Society? The American Cancer Society exists, obviously. But the American Cancer Society doesn’t have a subsequent American Breast Cancer Society affiliated partner. The ACS provides an ample amount of information on their website about breast cancer, but the only official ACS official program I can find related to breast cancer is “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer,” which is also listed on the Pink Carts website. And unrelated to the ACS, there’s the American Breast Cancer Foundation. But nowhere is there an American Breast Cancer Society, which confused me like crazy. 

Now, here’s another detail that made me scratch my head about Pink Pal’s. Based on appearance, their product is virtually identical to the Pink Cart. That’s probably because a Pink Pal’s Cart basically is a Pink Cart. According to a photo that was published on the Pink Pal’s Facebook page on May 12, 2017, the Pink Pal’s cart has the same label that’s affixed on every Pink Cart. However, when I re-visited the Pink Cart’s website that lists their officially affiliated pink cart haulers and distrubutors, Pink Pal’s is nowhere to be found. Strange, right? 

So, I did something this past Tuesday that some would say is out of the ordinary for the typical indifferent and Internet-obsessed millennial — I picked up my freaking phone and called Pink Pal’s. I knew that I needed answers that ther Facebook page would not provide, so I put on my big girl pants and dialed their number. 

When I first heard the representative’s voice over the phone, she sounded like an upbeat, humble, small-town woman, In a slew of energetic word vomit, within a matter of minutes she told me all about how Pink Pal’s operates. She said that $5 of every purchase goes towards the American Breast Cancer Society, and the other $15 – $20 is being donated towards a new program at the Upstate University Cancer Center’s Pink Champions start-up program. When I was finally able to sneak in a quick word, I asked her, “Well, I wanted to ask you about the American Breast Cancer Society, can you tell me a little more about that? I tried looking it up but wasn’t able to find a website…” The representative fumbled over her words a bunch before she began to stammer something about how the American Breast Cancer Society is the American Cancer Society. She also insisted that she wasn’t working with Pink Pal’s to make a huge profit, that she wasn’t like organizations like Susan G Komen (I swear guys, she brought up Komen, not me) and that her initiative was truly just an act of social good, I then asked her why it was that she wasn’t listed on the Pink Cart website, to which she said that she is officially recognized by the Pink Cart as an actual distributor, that she actually had just received official confirmation of her status with Pink Carts five days prior, and that if I didn’t believe her I could reach out to the Pink Cart or Cascade Engineering. 

Honestly, I got off the phone with her feeling slightly like an asshole. This woman did not come across as being malicious or slick or money-grubbing at all. She just seemed like a woman that wanted to try to some good for a cause she cares about. I remember having a conversation with a colleague after the fact, and we talked about whether or not I’m holding this woman to too high of a standard. This woman isn’t the founder of the Pink Cart or anything, so should she really need to know all the in’s and out’s of the breast cancer funraising initiative, such as being able to differentiate the American Breast Cancer Society, which doesn’t exist, with the American Cancer Society? I walked away from that conversation not really feeling too sure. 

While I was letting that call with Pink Pal’s marinate in my head for a little bit, I called the Pink Cart customer service hotline to see if I could speak to somebody regarding Pink Pal’s official affiliation with the Pink Cart. I was connected to the representative of the Pink Cart’s affiliated distributors on the eastern seaboard, but he did not respond and I was only able to leave a voicemail. At this time he has not returned my call (Note: I intended to call the Pink Cart customer service hotline again the following day, but admittedly I was slammed at work and was unable to reach out). If I receive any updates after this post is published, I’ll be sure to let you all know.)

Now, it is not my intent with this post to make the representative from Pink Pal’s look like a devil. In fact, I’ll even admit that I take her word for it when she says that she’s not trying to make a profit off of Pink Pal’s. I’ll be a softie, sure why not. But putting my feelings aside, my conversation with Pink Pal’s doesn’t change my viewpoint that as an organization, Pink Pal’s is careless in how they’re delivering their pitch and their brand identity to their customers. Let’s also put aside any judgment for a second that the only legitimate website Pink Pal’s has is their Facebook page. Their is no specification as to how much of their donations is actually being funneled into breast cancer initiatives. There is no specification anywhere that there is money being donated to the Upsate University Cancer Center’s Pink Champion program. The website has a non-existing breast health organization listed on their website, and the representative perpetuated the error by repeating the incorrect name several times over the phone. And even if Pink Pal’s received official confirmation of their affiliation with the Pink Cart initiative five days prior to my phone call, they’ve been advertising themselves as the Pink Cart brand in public, as well as on Facebook, for at least the last month, which is either deceitful or misleading. 

As a #breastcancerfeminist, I demand that any distributor of a pinkwashed product be completely transparent with their consumers as to how a purchase benefits breast cancer. I don’t need to see every dollar and cent sign (although I might go looking for that anyways!) but I’d like to see at least just a generally logical and sensical objective statement that outlines how any donation from the purchase is being utilized. And well, I’m sorry to say it, but Pink Pal’s doesn’t meet the mark right now. They have an obligation to their consumers to tell them accurate information and provide transparency where it’s due fit. 

And this proves my main point for this week’s post. Pink Pal’s, while they almost definitely don’t intend any harm, they perpetuate common issues with the breast cancer awareness movement. It’s great to be aware that breast cancer is a problematic disease that kills an estimated 40,000 women in the US annually, or that 1 out of every 8 women in the US is expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer. But awareness becomes a tricky, and well sloppy business, when everyone and their mother slabs a pink ribbon on something and tries to sell it as a socially conscious product that supports breast cancer. The assumption is that as long as it’s pink, has a ribbon on it, and it shows some promise that a donation of some amount is being made to a breast cancer charity, it’s a socially good product. And that might just not be the case. 

It also doesn’t help either that even the Pink Cart, while the initiative itself seems more legitimate, suffers from some of these transparency issues as well. For instance, the website goes back and forth in saying whether or not the donated money is being used for breast cancer awareness or breast cancer research. Let’s make something clear: research is not synonymous with awareness, and vice versa. So how is my donation actually being used? It’s kind of hard to tell. And also, if Pink Pal’s has been affiliated with the Pink Cart this entire time, it’s misleading that the Pink Cart website hasn’t been updated to reflect that official partnership. It’s negligent to not report all of their partnerships to their consumers. 

So moving forward, if you have any doubt about the legitimacy of a pinkwashed product, send the company or non-profit selling the good an email, or preferably give them a call. Ask them the questions that you want to have answered before you start pulling out your credit card. The breast cancer world can’t hurt from a little more self-policing, trust me. 

Here are my final takeaways:

Is Pink Pal’s donating their money to breast cancer related causes? Probably. 

Can I prove it? Not really, I can only go off of what the representative told me. 

Is Pink Pal’s affiliated with the Pink Cart? The jury’s out, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, I can’t disprove it but I can’t prove it either. 

Would I recommend buying a product from Pink Pal’s? No. 

Did you like this post? Are there any products that you’ve seen that support breast cancer but are skeptical about their legitimacy? Write a comment below or send me an email at graceslawskiwriting@gmail.com!

2 comments

  1. Are you aware of Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink® campaign? I am very involved with BCAction, and they very involved in this issue. http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/

    From me – I have been working on a document (now close to 200 pages) that is essentially a compilation of articles that I have been collecting and editing, and this is what I have written in my introduction:

    “I began this document sometime in 2014, after my breast cancer diagnosis (ER/PR positive) and treatment. It started as a compilation of articles, commentary, newsletters and research, and some personal rants for my use only, and then took on a life of its own. While I was saving tons of articles, I found that I wanted to keep the most relevant information in one place, as new findings, updated research and new information became available. This document should not be considered a comprehensive state of the science, but a compilation of resources.

    One of the best resources I have found is Breast Cancer Action. BCAction is a national education and activist non-profit organization based in San Francisco working to achieve health justice for all women at risk of and living with breast cancer. BCAction is the watchdog for the breast cancer movement and works to put women’s health first, before corporate profits. In their work to change the status quo, they launched the award-winning Think Before You Pink® campaign in 2002 and coined the term “pinkwashing.” It was this campaign that truly caught my eye and literally changed my world and the way I view the world around me. Breast Cancer Action is able to serve as the independent, trusted voice for women’s health because they have a strict conflict of interest policy and never accept corporate funding from any corporation that profits from or contributes to cancer. http://bcaction.org, http://bcaction.org/about/history-victories/

    In addition, see the Breast Cancer Fund’s State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment: http://www.breastcancerfund.org/assets/pdfs/publications/state-of-the-evidence-2010.pdf

    The articles contained here are not strictly breast cancer-related, as they affect us all in, in one way or another. As this is a largely non-edited compilation, there is redundant information as multiple articles speak to the same topics. This is a Work in Progress as I add new information on a regular basis. Not all sources are cited, as it was never intended for distribution or advice, but I have gotten better about that and try to include them. Many sources and resources are cited at the end of this document, and/or at end of most pieces.

    My inspiration, from Breast Cancer Action:

    Throughout our lives, we are all exposed to multiple toxins through our air, water, food, homes, and workplaces. Some of these exposures can be limited by our choice of household cleaners, beauty products, and food. But the majority involves exposures we can’t control.

    Xenoestrogens are manmade chemicals that mimic estrogen in our bodies and have been shown to increase women’s risk of breast cancer. These chemicals are found in many places in our environment, including personal care products and cosmetics (e.g., parabens), weed killers that make their way to our water sources (e.g., atrazine), food preservatives (e.g., butylated hydroxyanisole), baby bottles (e.g., BPA), and plastic containers and toys (e.g., phthalates).

    Today, less than 2 percent of breast cancer research funding goes toward understanding environmental causes of breast cancer.

    There are major gaps in the regulation of chemicals. Of the estimated 100,000 chemicals in commercial use in the U.S. today, more than 90 percent have never been tested to determine their effects on human health. As a result of the “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy of chemical regulation, the harmful impact of many chemicals has not been studied or has not been studied in combination with other chemicals with which they frequently interact. This makes it hard for consumers to make fully informed decisions regarding the safety of products. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 is the current law regulating chemicals in the United States. Major loopholes in this law include: (1) the chemical industry is not required to prove a substance is safe before putting it out on the market, and (2) manufacturers are allowed to keep certain ingredients secret from the public in the name of “trade secrets.”

    We must work together to create the systemic changes necessary to address the epidemic, put patient interests before profits, and stop breast cancer before it starts.”

    Like

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