At the risk of career suicide I'm calling bullshit on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and its celebrity endorsements. From Reese Witherspoon endorsing Avon -- a company that loads its products with phthalates and parabens (chemicals linked to breast cancer) -- to Jennifer Aniston, a woman who says she cares about conserving water resources and then endorses bottled water.
You can't turn around these days without seeing a Hollywood A-lister endorsing a product. Here's my problem with the whole situation: often they are endorsing products that aren't good for us and aren't good for the environment.
Seriously people, WTF? Am I the only one who saw Spider-Man? You know, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?"
Take Reese Witherspoon and her colleagues Jessica Alba, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymoore, Jessica Biel, et al -- all these women endorse various brands of cosmetics that contain parabens, phthalates, and other endocrine-disrupting, cancer-causing ingredients.
Call me naïve but I believe we as a society have a certain obligation to look out for one another. I feel even more strongly when it comes to women looking out for women. The cosmetics industry uses more than 10,000 chemicals in its products -- studies show that one out of every five beauty products contain ingredients certified by government authorities as containing known or probable human carcinogens. For these celebrities to endorse (and glamorize) a product that may be harmful to our health and the health of our children is one of the most irresponsible things a woman could do.
The most recent celebrity endorsement causing a stir is Ellen DeGeneres's endorsement of Vitamin Water. The enviro-blogs are burning up with ire for Ellen -- not because she's endorsing a sugary beverage -- but because of the plastic waste.
People who have watched my bottled water documentary Tapped often ask me why I single out bottled water when soda is also packaged in plastic. To be clear, I'm opposed to any single-use plastic, but I single out bottled water because it's marketed as a "safe" and "healthy" beverage. "Safe" implies that it's safer than tap water, but 40% of bottled water is just tap water. "Healthy" doesn't take into account that this virtually unregulated product is packaged in a plastic bottle known to leach chemicals in to the water.
Anyway, back to Ellen. Vitamin Water is owned by Glaceau which is owned by Coca Cola -- the same company that owns Smart Water, which is endorsed by everyone's favorite friend Jennifer Aniston. Together these two women have pocketed millions of dollars shilling for a company that consistently puts profit over people.
To be fair, I don't think either one of these women actually know all the facts about bottled water and the perils of plastic. I'm not sure that's an excuse, but I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they were hoodwinked into these endorsements, and once they know the true facts they'll end their contracts.
I brought this point up to Suzie Canales, a resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, who lives next door to the Flint Hills oil refinery. Flint Hills is the largest manufacturer of paraxylene, the primary ingredient used to make PET plastic, used for soda and water bottles.
"Ignorance is no excuse," she told me. "The danger of plastic bottles made of PET is well known now and I feel that celebrities have a moral responsibility to do the right thing, to put people before their pocket books."
She's right -- the dangers of PET are well-documented by now. A simple Google search will tell you that birth defects in Corpus Christi are 84% higher than in the rest of the state.
"I've had to bury many people that live by these facilities," she said. "And I think of them whenever I see these celebrity endorsements."
I'm all for consumer responsibility, but having been to Corpus Christi and seeing the stranglehold the oil industry has on these communities, it makes it difficult to say this is all a matter of free will and consumer choice. It's hard enough for the residents of Corpus Christi to take on the oil industry, let alone Jennifer Aniston and Ellen DeGeneres.
So what responsibility do celebrities have when they endorse a product? We know their endorsement sells more product or companies would have stopped using them ages ago. We often vilify younger celebrities for being bad role models when they are out partying yet we say nothing when Jennifer Aniston credits Smart Water for her killer abs. Yet those Smart Water bottles are made out of oil -- the same oil we've watched flood the Gulf. In fact, plastic water bottle manufacturing uses 714 million gallons of oil every year -- enough to fuel a million cars!
We're so quick to condemn the big corporations that pollute our natural resources, yet we glamorize the very people that endorse the product those corporations are selling.
As consumers we need to start realizing there is a face behind every product we buy, a community impacted by the way that product is created. Remember: we vote every single day with our dollars. Anytime we buy something, we are essentially endorsing that product. We hold all the power. And with great power comes great responsibility.