Sustainability; with one hand it gives and with the other it takes away

James Edney

28 / 03 / 2023

Whether you’re a sustainability strategist, planner, marketer or creative, life as a sustainability professional is never straightforward, but we’re making progress, right?

Depending on what you read, you’d be forgiven for thinking that after putting in the hard yards to rise up Board agendas and garner international attention over the past couple of decades, we’d never been making such great progress on sustainability. And, of course, there absolutely are positives to find and some brilliant companies driving progress on different environmental and social issues.

However, whilst many of us can hardly believe that businesses and brands are nowadays clamouring to engage their target audiences and consumers with sustainability messages – see, it does add value! – the reality is the sustainability comms landscape is quite the wild west. In light of the IPCC’s recent report on the chasm between where we are and where we need to be, all talk of success needs to be qualified.

And so, whilst it is genuinely exciting to see the power sustainability credentials evidently possess, when that is abused and misused, it is the people, businesses and brands trying to make real progress that suffer or are silenced; and when that happens, we all lose.

Here are three quick takeaways from the European Commission’s Green Claims Directive.


  1. The seemingly unattainable dream of confident sustainability comms lives on

There isn’t a client we’ve worked with who doesn’t aspire to having access to confident, credible, sustainability storytelling; for so many of us, it is the dream we’re all chasing. The power and value of great susty comms can’t be denied, but this directive is a stark reminder that the stories we’d love to tell aren’t always the ones we can. If you can’t answer most of these questions with a big green tick, it’s best to reconsider your comms:

  1. Purpose-driven – is this an issue we can credibly address in light of our business purpose and wider impact?
  2. Credible – do we have accurate, consistent stats to back us up?
  3. Transparent – are we telling the whole story, not just the chapter we want people to hear?


  1. Sustainability claims – with great power comes great corporate responsibility

In a profession already drowning in regulation, certifications, standards and labels, more of the same is rarely welcomed but it is clear that in this case, more regulation is a bitter but necessary pill to swallow. It’s exciting to see the power sustainability credentials have today, but that is completely undermined if the associated comms erode the trust people can place in what they read and hear. 

If there’s one thing susty folk are brilliant at, it is engagement, and so one of the most powerful things we can do is embrace those marketing and comms teams that are desperate to tell sustainability stories and co-create solutions with them that are authentic and accurate.


  1. The future of sustainability comms – a little more fact and a lot less fiction

There’s still an important role for brilliant creative and comms because it will be terrible if the ripples from this draft directive stifle creativity and imaginative storytelling. We still need to engage consumers, and that’s best done through more than just facts and figures; it’s just that those facts and figures are really, really important.

We can’t afford for greenwashing fears to drive greenhushing headlines; that’s an awful outcome. Sustainability has fought too hard to be silenced. If we are to realise the sustainable, inclusive future we all need, it’s positivity, optimism and belief that we’re going to get us there – all of which are born out of brilliant creative comms that capture real, genuine and transparent progress.


James Edney