What’s Missing From Sustainability Communication

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Too often, businesses rely only on numbers when communicating about their sustainability commitments. This has started to change, as companies like Chipotle have come to recognize the power of storytelling for sustainability. But stories alone may not be enough, either, write Matt Polsky and Claire Sommer in a recent article published by Sustainable Brands.
 
The most compelling sustainability communication emerges, the writers argue, when marketers combine both stories and data. The two work in synergy: The story element activates the emotions and values of the left side of the brain, and helps consumers understand why sustainability action is needed. The data, on the other hand, activates the right side of the brain by giving the “what.” Numbers and facts, especially when used judiciously and come from trusted messengers, help consumers to understand the scope and extent of a company’s sustainability commitment. When combined, stories and data together can help consumers to simultaneously buy into the need for corporate sustainability, and believe that the story a company is telling is backed by reality. 

 

Storytelling and Data: Using Two Sides of the Brain Is Better Than One

By Matt Polsky, Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Contributor to Sustainable Brands & Claire Sommer, Founder of Kayak Media and Contributor to Sustainable Brands
 
Take a look at Stephan Lewandowsky’s excellent Guardian piece that compares war reporting’s history with mismanaged data to current failures in climate change media reporting. During the Iraq war lead-up, the evidence was weak, but the overall story — the perception of grave imminent risk — was seen by the past administration as sufficient to justify going to war. Climate change reporting has the opposite problem. There is a mountain of compelling evidence to justify action, yet momentum still lags. In both, there is a story, and there is data. But they aren’t of equal quality, or working together
 
This got us thinking about how this applies to our field’s storytelling trend. There’s similar dissonance when story and data aren’t balanced and joined to inspire more sustainable business actions.
 
Some companies are now using storytelling, or narratives, in novel and admirable ways to inspire their employees and engage their stakeholders. One in particular, the powerful, viral “Scarecrow” video from Chipotle, connects without numbers or words. The Guardian’s Jo Confino has an idea about why storytelling became a huge 2013 trend in the sustainable business world. He said that the sustainability movement will fail to achieve a prosperous future for society and the planet unless we start giving people a compelling future vision. What the sustainable business world needs are better stories that inform and inspire.
 
Read more here.

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