The cultural politics of climate branding: Project Sunlight, the biopolitics of climate care and the socialisation of the everyday sustainable consumption practices of citizens-consumers

Doyle, Julie; Farrell, Nathan; Goodman, Michael K.


Many corporations are now in the business of bringing climate change ‘home’ in the everyday products that those, in much of the Minority world, can purchase and use, providing opportunities for consumers to literally and figuratively ‘buy in’ to climate mitigation. Yet, what are the implications of this form of highly commoditised, corporate-led, consumer-focused climate branding? In the spaces and practices of the everyday, how and in what ways are corporations framing and socialising responses to climate change and global environmental and social issues? This paper explores these 'questions through a multimodal discourse analysis of Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ (2010) and its ‘Project Sunlight’ campaign (2010–2016). Situating Unilever’s sustainability agenda as indicative of the contemporary climate politics of the corporate sector, that also represents a pivotal moment in the cultural politics of climate change, we critically interrogate Unilever’s mobilisation of the affective and emotional registers of everyday life and human relations in its model of sustainable living. Specifically, we focus on the ways that Unilever encourages acts of branded consumption as a form of—what we call here—climate care, by invoking normative discourses of gender and family through a form of biopolitics, and, at a larger scale, how the corporation is shaping how particular forms of climate capitalism are socialised, normalised and practiced. In doing so, we shift critical attention away from sustainable business analyses of Unilever onto the unexplored socio-cultural dimensions of Unilever’s sustainability model. We argue that Unilever’s socialisation of climate branding and care works to depoliticise climate change actions and actors through a biopolitics that creates a false veneer of democratisation in the form of consumer choice, thereby curtailing more progressive societal action on climate change.