Sustainability communication: from storytelling to storydoing

In the past, brands battled for consumer loyalty through humour and heartwarming stories. Think of the iconic advertising wars between McDonald’s and Burger King, Nike and Adidas, or Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Today, however, the battleground has shifted dramatically. Sustainability and eco-friendly promises are now the fiercest weapons in a brand’s arsenal. This competition can get intense, as evidenced by the recent clash between two Spanish energy companies. One accused the other of greenwashing, specifically for using “bio” and “renewable” labels on products advertised as eco-friendly.

The battleground between companies to demonstrate their eco-credentials is more than evident in supermarkets, with brands vying for the title of “greenest.” Shelves overflow with products labelled “eco-friendly,” “fair trade,” and other sustainability claims, bombarding consumers with brands’ eco-credentials.

The war to be the most ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ might seem like mere marketing hype, but evidence suggests otherwise. A study by the consultancy firm McKinsey and Nielsen analysed whether the labelling of ‘sustainable’ products really affects consumer purchasing. Their findings are clear: so-called ‘eco’ goods grew in sales by 28 per cent compared to 20 per cent for products that made no such claims.

The battle for sustainability extends far beyond supermarket shelves. In the corporate world, the rise of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria has intensified the competition to be seen as environmentally responsible. However, this focus on communication has often outpaced real action. The result? Consumers are left confused, unsure of what truly qualifies as sustainable. Worse yet, a significant amount of “greenwashing” exists. A European Union study found that nearly 60% of sustainability claims made by retailers and manufacturers lacked verifiable data to support them.

The European Union, recognising consumer confusion amidst a sea of “sustainable” claims, has taken action. Last March, the European Parliament adopted the “Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition” directive. This initiative aims to combat greenwashing by ensuring truthful environmental claims and protecting consumers from unfair practices. The directive will be transposed into Spanish law by March 27, 2026, giving companies two years to adapt their communication strategies. This deadline presents an opportunity for brands to shift their focus from empty claims to genuine sustainability efforts.

But this does not end here. The European Union is currently crafting another regulation, still in its early stages, that will empower member states to verify environmental claims. This upcoming hurdle promises to bring further challenges – and potentially some headaches – for companies navigating communication strategies in this evolving landscape.

The paradigm shift is undeniable: companies must transition from mere storytelling to story-doing. This means transparently communicating their positive impact on the environment and society, with verifiable actions backing up their claims. Empty narratives no longer sway consumers; they demand authenticity and results.

Carme Miró, CEO & founder






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