Storytelling – envisioning a positive future in environmental communication

Storytelling is a buzz word in communications at the moment. It may refer to brand storytelling, for instance, and how organisations need to craft their ‘story’ across its various communications channels. Storytelling also makes for lively and persuasive copywriting, and I will feature another post on this in the near future.

This post, however, focuses on storytelling as a powerful way to share your vision for a future accomplishment or way of being. Storytelling is ideal where people find it difficult to understand the worth of your offering, cannot imagine your vision for something you are trying to create (often something new or innovative), or have personal barriers which stop them engaging with your ideas.

In environmental communication, audiences frequently struggle to imagine how a future in which they are told to ‘use less’ and ‘cut down’, can actually be a more positive one. Again and again, studies of environmental communication show that communications efforts must be positive to engage most audiences. Humans have also been shown to be more emotional than rational when making decisions or forming new attitudes or behaviours, and storytelling can access the emotions of your reader. Environmental communications are often perceived as negative about the future. However, here are two great examples of how a positive future has been envisioned through storytelling:

Case studies set in the future

The ‘Building a positive future for Bristol after Peak Oil’ report was commissioned by Bristol City Council and the Green Capital Momentum Group, to look at how Bristol will be affected by a predicted decline in availability of oil. The implications of being unable to sustain our lifestyles as we currently understand them, are often something that people cannot envision or engage with. However, the report, rather than simply reporting the facts, also contains a series of case studies. The case studies are based in the future and illustrate what such a different world is like to live in – and according to the fictional characters who feature in them, this different future is not an unpleasant place to be.

Storytelling from the future

The World We Made’ is a diary written in 2050 by the fictional character Alex McKay. Alex is a history teacher who is encouraged by his students to document the dramatic changes that took place in the years after the 2020s, and he paints a positive picture of how we overcame the environmental and social obstacles that we face today. The author, Jonathon Porritt, is an environmental activist, and according to publishers Phaidon, this book does what few others do: it provides us with a vibrant and exciting look at what the world could look like, if we act on the sustainability challenges facing us now.

If your organisation is working to make the world a better place, start by using storytelling across your communications to help people understand the future you are working towards. Try it for yourself.

This article was originally published on my previous blog in February 2014.

Struggling to use storytelling to envision a better future? Need help to identify what your stories should be? Contact me on 015394 69034 / 07707 038 092, or email me on

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