Brand and business owners behind social impact projects are subjected to technically demanding and overly forceful sustainability articles. Sustainability write-ups that overemphasise statistics risk losing their messages to a broader fear-mongering crusade. They also make it challenging to weave brand stories with a positive purpose spin. Enter: the power of sustainability storytelling.

The topic of sustainability storytelling rose to popularity following COP26. That is when large media bodies such as The New York Times promoted it on their 2021 Climate Hub panel. The panel, titled Hearts and Minds: Storytelling and Climate Change, focused on the art of hopeful sustainability storytelling. “Stories hold a power that science does not: The power to move hearts and minds and connect people to a problem.”

Countless digital and print articles on sustainability follow a fear-mongering narrative. They lose sight of the need to incite action and foster change. This crucial message gets lost in statistics about the negative impacts of poorly managed sustainability causes. Too many statistics quickly disengage readers unless the numbers are personalised or put into context.

Companies will only succeed in driving effective social impact campaigns if they seek innovative ways of communicating sustainability messages. Across all industries and business models, there is one way to drive environmental change that outperforms all others.

Which way is that? Storytelling. Storytelling allows brands and businesses to captivate their audiences by sharing their unique sustainability story. Every culture, community, brand, and business has a unique narrative. Brands can harness the power of storytelling to foster connections with readers. These connections will help their environmental impact messages resonate across audiences.


What is sustainability storytelling?

Sustainability storytelling disseminates information that communicates a brand vision. At its core is a nuanced message that engages readers and inspires empathy. Essentially, sustainability storytelling takes brand stories and communicates them in a way that inspires audiences to take action to foster sustainability.

This type of storytelling can be applied to environmental efforts across all industries. Whether a business operates in trucking or agriculture, the premise is the same. The goal is to harness the power of personalised storytelling to shape new narratives around sustainability.

Successful sustainability storytelling campaigns are based on lived experiences. Their focus on creativity and culture draws audiences in. Ragnar Axelsson and Christopher Raeburn’s Save The Arctic collaboration is one example. Yasmin Jones-Henry profiled their work for The Financial Times in 2021 and notes the capacity of arts and culture to harness the power of sustainability storytelling. She states, “those in the arts … have been much more adept in leveraging their talents to highlight the global environmental challenges we now face.”


Why is sustainability storytelling important?

Spreading climate change awareness and generating a call to action for sustainable living often culminates in one central narrative: despair. Unfortunately, an overall message of despair will likely disengage readers. It causes them to disassociate from the problem as opposed to facing it. Searching for new narratives and ways of storytelling can shift public perception from despondency to empowerment.

Empowering audiences is especially important for brands and businesses. Writing for The Guardian, Ed Gillespie states that the “stories and metaphors” small and large businesses use to embody sustainability initiatives are “crucial” to staying motivated.


How does sustainability storytelling drive action?

The New York Times 2021 Climate Hub panel discussion stressed that sustainability storytelling recasts conceptual statistics into relatable intel. The panel collectively agreed the power of sustainability storytelling lies in its ability to make information tangible and personal.

Relating environmental impacts to local real-world experiences is imperative to connecting with readers. It is also critical to incite action through sustainability storytelling. Tangible environmental narratives reach a wider audience and are more likely to create a social impact.

Moreover, storytelling allows brands and businesses to connect with audiences on a personal level. Contextualising information based on readers’ own life experiences will drive advocacy and support social impact initiatives.

Readers and audiences engaged and empowered through sustainable narratives are more likely to share their experiences with others. Inspiring audiences to spread brand initiatives through word of mouth is not only great for business. It also strengthens community ties. Strong relations with audiences and communities increase social responsibility projects’ impact.


How can brands and businesses foster sustainability storytelling?

According to The New York Times 2021 Climate Hub panel, the most important element of sustainability storytelling is to connect with audiences on a human level with a relatable hook. Doing so will foster feelings of equality and disarm defensive responses.

The panel closed by acknowledging that the author is as important as the story itself. Hearing voices from people on the frontlines of climate change and those directly impacted resonates most with audiences. By hearing from a wide range of authors, audiences grasp the universality of sustainability storytelling narratives.

Furthermore, GreenBiz recommends developing a brand story encompassing a sustainability vision, mission, and values. “Understand which issues are material to your company.” Doing so lays the foundation for what comes next – communication.

GreenBiz suggests building thought leadership programmes to share brand stories through op-eds, social posts, blogs, and speaking engagements. The success story of The New York Times Climate Hub is a clear example of compelling sustainability storytelling through speaking engagements.

The power of sustainability storytelling lies in its ability to reach and connect with a broad audience on a personal level. This connection increases the chance of spurring social impact initiatives into action.

The diversity of sustainability storytelling means narratives can be told across various industries. These narratives are also applicable to a wide variety of contexts.

They are harnessing the power of sustainability storytelling for their brand stories guaranteeing that businesses and brands will stand out among their competitors.