Project Sunlight – It’s a Great Time to Make a Baby
This video got my attention, along with the attention of eleven million other viewers since it was posted just over a week ago. It is the centerpiece of Unilever’s new Project Sunlight launch. What, exactly, Project Sunlight is, is the subject of some ongoing debate.
Is it little more than greenwash by a global corporation, many of whose actions are anything but green? Virginia Pelley makes a compelling case for this in The Sun Shines Out of Our Behinds – Unilever’s Project Sunlight Greenwashing Campaign.
Is it a feelgood dose of soma for “consumers” to take so we can feel good about the possibilities for the world while we continue liquidating it?
Is it another example of people (whose jobs depend on it) believing the right products or technology can make 7, 9 or 11 billion people’s lives both prosperous and sustainable?
Or is it a genuine effort to make a difference by a global giant truly committed to creating a sustainable future – by changing the way it does business and changing the way “consumers” behave? And if that’s true, are we really so immature that we can only be inspired to inch in the direction of sustainability, and only then if it’s easy and presented to us via rainbows and unicorns?
Cynicism was my natural reaction to this statement from the news release announcing the project launch:
“Project Sunlight aims to galvanise and build momentum behind a movement that is already happening. We know people all over the world want to adopt more sustainable behaviours, but need these to be easy and to fit with the way they live their lives. As a global consumer goods company, we have the means to help people realise this ambition.”
My primary reason for putting this video on the Wall of Shame, however, has not been widely discussed. Look at the title:
Why Bring a Child Into This World?
This is the message implied by both the title and the content of the video (my words):
We face serious environmental and social challenges in this world. In spite of the evidence, there is plenty of hope. A combination of technology and holding hands singing Kumbaya will deliver a bright future. So it’s a great time to have a baby.
Unilever’s rationale for the campaign paints a picture of a very noble company with admirable goals. I want to believe the company really wants to make a huge difference in the world. Many skeptics, however, point out how many of the company’s actions are not consistent with all its sustainability talk.
I want to give Unilever the benefit of the doubt. We need companies like this to become committed to significantly changing the way we do business. If the company is as truly green as it portrays itself to be, then I want to bring to Unilever's attention two elements of the campaign that could bear improvement:
1. Remove “consumers” from the vocabulary. The word appears eight times in the company’s rationale and approach document, Project Sunlight: Inspiring Sustainable Living. If we as human beings are defined primarily as “consumers,” then the struggle to achieve sustainability is lost before it even begins.
2. Acknowledge the need to reduce fertility rates (everywhere). We have a problem if this genuinely represents the company’s position on population:
“For some people the idea that it is possible for 9 billion people to live sustainably by 2050 – what WWF describes as ‘one-planet living’ – may seem utopian, considering how far removed it appears from today’s realities and the social, economic and environmental challenges the world faces.
However, we believe that achieving this vision is possible, providing leaders from governments, business, civil society and ordinary members of the public work together to take a proactive approach to addressing these issues over the coming decades.”
The video title, its content, and all the project’s messaging ignore half of the essential equation for sustainability. Continuing population growth is presented as a fait accompli, and its role in liquidating the planet’s resources and injuring its ecosystems is not acknowledged. In fact, the video implies it’s a great time to conceive a child. The video and other project messaging could easily address our desire for creating a healthy, sustainable world for our children, without suggesting we go out and make more. Ignoring the role of choosing small family size is unacceptable, knowing what we know about our state of overshoot and how difficult it is to get our culture to scale back economic throughput.
Please click on a star to reflect how shameful you feel this video to be. Scroll down to comment. What do you think? Did the video get it wrong?