When does talking about sustainability become too risky?

In recent weeks, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Clorox's Green Works have been the targets of sometimes scathing criticism for launching sustainability-related campaigns.

These campaigns have been described by some as "breathtakingly dumb," "ridiculous" and "not so sustainable."

While each campaign is different, all three strive to engage consumers around some of sustainability's hottest issues: transparency, ingredients and behavior change. The more I dig into the critics' digs, the more it becomes apparent that businesses can't always please everyone. Taking a risk in the right direction, however, is better than not taking a risk at all.

McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Green Works each took a risk in their own way in part to push forward public discourse. McDonald's announced that its Filet-O-Fish sandwich wrappers will begin carrying an ecolabel from the Marine Stewardship Council in the U.S. Coca-Cola entered the national discussion on obesity with two commercial spots, and Green Works parodied the "Real Housewives" reality television brand while exploring green lifestyle options.

Yes, these types of campaigns sometimes miss the mark, especially in Green Works' case. Instead of focusing on the efficacy of one campaign, maybe the larger question should center on what else these companies are doing to engage consumers in these important conversations.

What truly matters is what companies do next. Sticking a label on a food wrapper, replaying television commercials and releasing a series of webisodes won't be enough to drive the real change that's needed on these issues.

Next page: Making sustainability campaigns pay