Mitigating climate change, one hamburger at a time : a discourse analysis of how MAX Burgers AB communicates their carbon offsetting — and how customers perceive it
Abstract: Carbon offsetting through forest sequestration in the Global South has become an increasingly common way for companies to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions and thereby sell products and services with net zero emissions. In Sweden, fast food company MAX Burgers AB goes even further. They offset 10 % more than what they emit through carbon dioxide removal (CDR), thus claiming to have a “climate-positive” menu and that “every bite is good for the climate”. In this thesis I analyse how Max narrates their carbon offsetting online and in advertisements, as well as how a sample of 92 of their customers perceive this narrative, through short interviews. I also conduct a discourse analysis and discuss how these narratives draw on the ecological modernisation, green governmentality and civic environmentalism discourses, and how Max and the interviewed customers relate to each other in terms of governmentality, i.e. the conduct of (carbon) conduct. The major findings of the thesis are three: firstly, despite a lingering confusion around Max’s concept of “climate positivity”, the message of consuming burgers to solve climate change seems to have stuck. Indeed, most of the interviewed customers were positive towards Max’s carbon offsetting, but very few understood what it actually means and that Max is doing CDR. Secondly, Max places a lot of responsibility on the individual customer to consume sustainably, which together with the first major finding ultimately allows them to escape their own responsibility of producing sustainably. Thirdly, despite that Max constructs the individual customer as responsible for climate change mitigation, self-disciplining into conscious and responsible consumers is not very pronounced among the interviewees. This might indicate that Max is not conducting their customers’ (carbon) conduct to as great an extent as the governmentality literature suggests. The contribution of this thesis is to shed light on a previously quite unexplored area, namely how companies communicate their carbon offsetting, and how their customers in the Global North perceive, reason and act in relation to those carbon offset products. The findings indicate that one has to be mindful in jumping to conclusions about the conduct of (carbon) conduct in terms of consumers’ behaviour, but also call for more research in the topic as no generalisations can be made to any customers other than those interviewed.
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