Stories are powerful. They shape your organisation’s culture and its decision-making. Yet, many companies are not sure how to best leverage storytelling for sustainability. We share what we have learned and point you to some of our favourite resources.
How do leading companies leverage storytelling for sustainability?
Stories are everywhere in organisations. You’ll find them in day-to-day conversations, used to persuade peers or others, or, more formally, in your internal or external communications or as part of your brand.
Our research shows that companies that are leveraging storytelling to support their commitment to sustainability are deliberate about it. In these organisations, telling stories is viewed as an accepted and expected form of communication. They make an effort to gather and craft stories that help employees and others understand the organisation’s role in maintaining the health of the communities and ecosystems around them. And, they also take the time to help their leaders craft and refine their own personal stories and create opportunities for them to tell them.
These companies develop coherent internal and external narratives that go beyond making claims about their sustainability and instead demonstrate it by highlighting the choices and actions that align with delivering on their sustainability commitments. These organisations are also leveraging the power of stories to influence others, including their customers and companies in their value chain.
How can you leverage storytelling for sustainability?
If you have been thinking about how you could be better leveraging storytelling to deliver on sustainability, here are some helpful ideas and resources to consider.
Understand the power of stories – it’s how we are meant to learn.
It turns out that as a species, we actually crave stories. As we learn more about the Science Behind Storytelling, we learn that humans have long used stories to teach and learn what we need to know about problems and how to solve them.
Pay attention to the stories that you currently tell.
Every organisation has a set of stories that get told over and over to inform and justify the decisions that it makes. This is your narrative infrastructure. You can think of this infrastructure like a railway system delivering justifications. If you want your organisation to travel to a different destination, you will likely need new stories to get them there (and you may even need to stop telling old stories that pull them in the wrong direction).
Our guide on Shaping Your Organisation’s Narrative Infrastructure helps you reflect on what stories drive decision-making in your organisation and how to shift the stories that you tell.
Make sure you’re actually telling a story.
Seems obvious, right? But the thing is, many times, corporate sustainability storytelling just falls flat. It starts with “here’s the problem”; and them moves straight to “here’s how much we spent, how many people we trained, or how much waste we diverted”; and ends with a pithy “and that’s why we’re a sustainable company.” Flat. This piece helpfully reminds us of the 7 Narrative Structures All Writers Should Know.
Focus on the choice.
One thing that our research has shown is the power of choice. Choice moments are sticky, our brains are wired to pay attention to them, and research suggests that our future choices are influenced by patterns of choices we have encountered in the past. Our guide on Storytelling for Sustainability highlights this crucial role of choice, helps you understand how stories contribute to embedding sustainability, and helps you identify and craft your own stories.
Give people hope.
Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak studies how stories change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It turns out that sharing a human story of struggle and eventual triumph is more likely to be remembered and is also an effective way of motivating or persuading others, something he explains well in this article on Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling.
If you are ready to start your own story of change, explore these and other resources for effective storytelling for sustainability.