Within environmental sociology realist critiques of the use of social constructionist approaches abound. This paper challenges features of the realist critique and emphasises the appeal and utility of social constructionist approaches for the study of environmental issues. We start by outlining the criticisms levelled at social constructionism, particularly the claim that the approach amounts to a denial of the existence of environmental problems and provides no contribution to managing them. We argue that this characterisation of ‘extreme’ constructionism is problematic in two senses. First, in that it bears little resemblance to the mild approach actually used in the majority of empirical studies and, secondly, that it is a misleading characterisation of a more radical constructionism. We conclude that the utility of constructionism can be formulated in terms of two distinct approaches. One refrains from making overt moral and political claims, and treats such claims as topics for analysis; such an approach can, however, provide resources for social criticism. Another adopts an overtly political or environmentally motivated stance towards the issues investigated. Underlying these suggestions is our conviction that a particular model of engagement is implicit in many realist critiques and that others are possible, and perhaps, preferable.