The Future of PR: A Wake-Up Call for Communicators

“Humans think in stories rather than facts, numbers and equations. And the simpler the story, the better.” – Yuval Noah Harari

We as humans have evolved to be storytellers, making sense of the world around us through the stories we tell ourselves and each other. As part of the communications industry, be it marketing or PR, we stand at the intersection of the stories brands want to tell and consumers want to hear – making us architects of understanding. Bringing with it both an immense responsibility and opportunity. 

Facing one of the biggest collective challenges of our time – the climate crisis – means we have to get better in steering both sides towards the future we all deserve. This landscape demands communications shaped by courage, curiosity and care. And the newest policy developments in the EU around the ban on greenwashing claims reflect that changing tide. Raising the bar for transparency and aligning stories with reality, the ban marks the future of PR as we know it. Core to this transformation is a renewed commitment to sustainability in the ways we work and live, closing gaps between what we say and do.

The EU Greenwashing Ban  

In September 2023, the European Union announced a ban on greenwashing, a decision that will inevitably reshape the landscape of brand communications. The provisional agreement will now need to be agreed and formally adopted by both the European Council and Parliament, which is expected to happen this month. The directive will enter into force shortly thereafter. Following the directive entering into force, there will be a 24-month period for businesses to adapt. This move asks brands to back their environmental messages with proof of recognized environmental performance. Generic keywords like “eco-friendly” and “natural” can no longer stand alone. Offset-based carbon neutrality claims are prohibited entirely. Any sustainability labels must be based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities.

This full transparency mandate creates a sunk cost for brands that have to prove messages with diligent life cycle assessments. But it also rewards those dedicated to authentically building their environmental impact from the ground up. With the playing field leveled, sustainability efforts got another push to become an integral business strategy. For decades, gaps between storytelling and action have eroded trust in a green future and institutions of all kinds. We have reached a turning point, where purpose-driven brands are taking the lead, bringing immense implications for the communications industry. 

A Call to Action for Communicators

The question now becomes how to evolve communications to thrive in this climate while upholding legal compliance. The answer likely lies in radical creativity – imagining and revealing possibilities rather than skilfully concealing problems. When talking about sustainability, brands are invited to showcase specific, measurable contributions like communities benefited, materials saved, emissions reduced and circularity boosted in ways that tell stories about the new normal. With us communicators being architects of understanding, how are we going to ensure we paint a tangible picture of the solution? Translating between brands and consumers, making complex and new terms easy to understand and contributing to help make the story of our unfolding greener future a reality? It starts with our own understanding of the multifaceted climate issue we are facing and our capacity to transform solutions into easily understandable stories. 

This new era offers immense possibilities to fill the void of trust, and rediscover advertising’s power as a force for good while guiding brands in this journey. To thrive in this landscape, communicators must remember that the consumer is the story. Through creativity, cultural attunement and a solutions-focused mindset, we can co- author narratives that resonate and move people to positive action.