From Dickens to the Green Executive: Storytelling for Sustainability
At Tipping Point Newcastle last week there was a lot of talk about how “angry” we should be about the state of the world and how we could “sustain that anger.” After an initial, but clearly unsustainable, blast from the angry young men and women in the room, a more sober reflection on the intersection between art and sustainability took over. At one breakout session, someone raised the awareness of poverty that Charles Dickens brought to the middle and ruling classes of Victorian England by writing extremely good stories about it.
I ventured that a modern equivalent might be Ian McEwan’s Solar which avoids the preaching and presents a venal, very human protagonist in the battle for sustainability, rather than the virtuous and boring green heroes that some portray. But most importantly, McEwan wrote a cracking good story that made you want to read it. I think Alan Davey of The Arts Council summed it up well when he said “don’t preach” and “bad climate art is worse than no climate art.”
The last session I took part in was about communicating with executives of big business. Having pledged to myself to talk a little less and listen a little more in this session, I was bullied (it took at least 2 seconds to persuade me) to talk about what I had done in The Green Executive – tell the stories of the people who had succeeded in changing their organisation for the better. When I started the book, I decided to interview some leading green executives to generate case studies, but the results were so compelling that I included them almost verbatim between chapters. Some of them were very personal – such as Jim Hagan of GlaxoSmithKline touching on the death of his father. These stories gave a compelling, human edge to book that I couldn’t have created any other way.
So if you want to change your organisation, or the whole world, don’t get angry, tell stories about where you are and where you should be.