Symbolic commitment is commonly acknowledged in the literature to be important for sustainability governance. Academics express high hopes and expectations of symbolic commitment as a means to strengthen sustainability institutions. Policy makers and bureaucrats see it as being necessary in order to keep an issue on the agenda. However, little is known about how symbolic commitment contributes to institutional resilience. This study examines the rise and fall of national institutions for implementing sustainability agendas in Germany, Finland, and the UK in the context of fluctuating symbolic commitment. Interviews with 56 policy actors and documentary analysis uncovered the creative role of bureaucrats in securing symbolic commitment. The risks of relying on symbolic commitment can be reduced by considering the impact of economic austerity and the loss of institutional memory.