Greenwashing the cosmetic industry and other areas of inquiry

Within the realm of activism, there are many avenues into which current political tensions and social dynamics impact the conversations being held and actions being taken. When brainstorming about current issues related to activism, I have thought of several topics that may expose interesting possibilities of inquiry. The topic of street art is rather interesting, as this form of activism has actually led to the growth of popular figures such as Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, and JR. However, with the growth of their renown, does their art still transgress cultural norms enough to be considered activism? Another topic to consider is how activist efforts have shifted in addressing sex trafficking within the United States. Have activist movements successfully led to legislation? Another topic is “slacktivism”, social media activism. It would be worth researching whether or not this is activism and how certain issues capture the collective imagination more than others. Another topic could be the evolution of activism with regards to the use of technology. For example, the economic crisis in Flint, Michigan was central to a documentary made by Michael Moore. Today, the issue of water contamination in Flint has led to outrage through the dissemination of information over the Internet. How has the ability for people to access information altered the way that they interact with activism?

Finally, I believe that a fascinating topic that is worthy of attention centers around the activism confronting the “greenwashing” of the cosmetic industry. Greenwashing is a term referring to the active dissemination of disinformation about an organization in order to appear environmentally responsible to the public. According to an article published by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the European Union, Israel, and India all banned the sale of cosmetics that were tested on animals. However, the U.S. still allows for animal testing. Therefore, I want to research how the role of activism has shifted public perception so that corporations have responded with increased branding involving a natural emphasis without changing the testing process. It is especially interesting to note how consumers are being manipulated into using what they believe to be their purchasing power to support products labeled as environmentally conscious without educating themselves about the production processes of the company.


3 thoughts on “Greenwashing the cosmetic industry and other areas of inquiry”

  1. The inclusion of environmental responsibility in the corporate image has become a huge part of branding. While consumer manipulation is a definite factor in a capitalistic society, I would suggest that you examine not only the PR changes that companies make, but the actual changes as well. For example, the US has recently banned the use of non-biodegradable microbeads in cosmetic products, at the behest of a multitude of activists and scientists. I would also look at industry leaders and study their behavior and how it affects other firms. For example, this isn’t the cosmetic industry, but Google and Apple have made a few public moves to endorse solar energy. To what degree do corporations actually engage in true structural changes to their products? How much of this shift is motivated by economic factors vs. legislation? Lastly, how could activism be used to inform the public about the prevalence of such corporate manipulation?

    This topic is definitely important to the average consumer! Good luck engaging with it and finding the information you need.


  2. I think this is a very interesting topic to explore, and it is clear how it holds relevance to the topics we explored in Tim Jordan’s book(especially with regard to cultural jamming).As emphasized through Chapter 5 and Chapter 7 of Activism!, the manipulation of consumers through the branding efforts of corporations is so profound and ingrained in the American society. This issue affects every individual in society and is the result of active and explicit manipulative efforts by corporations. I suggest that you look explicitly as to why the US government hasn’t passed legislation prohibiting animal testing for products. For instance, what specific lobbying groups and efforts hold sway in Congress? Some questions you could potentially address or think about: How can such lobbying groups be challenged? How have activist movements/cultural jammers attempted to confront such lack of legislation for animal rights and why have they not been ultimately effective in getting legislation to pass? Why has legislation passed in the EU, Israel and India and not in the US?


  3. The greenwashing topic seems really exciting, great catch! If you’re looking for some info, HSI might be a helpful source. It could also be interesting to look into some psychological mechanisms that come into play when it comes to people taking their stand on these issues. You could try investigating what is it about greenwashing that allows people who generally like to consider themselves concerned and compassionate citizens to ignore clear indications that there’s something dirty going on behind the scenes. This is linked to a broader question of whether it’s virtue or societal pressure that shapes our decisions to be “good citizens” in these situations and whether we’re always honest with ourselves in conversations about them.


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