Written by CarbonCulture Team on 2nd September 2014
Sustainability is complex enough to require some systematic way of measuring outcomes. That's why at CarbonCulture we care so much about data, and about measurement and evaluation. Without collecting performance data you can't know whether your projects are saving energy, whether your people are engaged. Yet it's important to remember that, for many people, emotional engagement is not driven by data. Anything but.
For thousands of years, in cultures across the world, it has been stories – whether they're warm and personal, rousing calls to arms or inspiring grand narratives – that have proved to have the power to engage and move people to action. Come the day that whole populations have changed their behaviours and their expectations to live together more sustainably, we can be sure that stories will have played a central part.
“A staff member from the House of Lords says 'I save carbon by cycling to work - though I'd do it anyway, it's the best way to get around and always makes me happier'.”
At CarbonCulture, we've been working on new ways to use the power of stories to bring about sustainability outcomes. Our first effort was with 'tiny stories', this has been running for some time with a number of CarbonCulture members. This initiative attracted stories with subjects from primary school children to rhinos, exploring the whole range of ways that organisations can contribute to sustainability outcomes. But until now, it has taken too much effort to collect and publish stories.
We've recently designed a new version of Stories to help engage staff and senior leadership – and even build some external recognition – through simple stories and a process that anyone in an organisation can join in with. The apps have a 'backstage' feature that allows CarbonCulture member organisations to take control of their own story publishing, to drive engagement across large populations quickly and easily.
We've found that almost everyone has some sustainability stories to tell – and that almost every community can find a way of celebrating them. Small stories are a great way of demonstrating the direction of travel in a community – by a CEO or a Mayor celebrating a small story, everyone can see the direction leadership is taking.
“We rely on it to live, but the air quality in Camden is pretty poor. That's why GOSH, as proud members of Camden Council’s Air Quality Pledge scheme, are committing to reduce the number of vehicles on site and install boilers that emit less NOx gas”.
Working in businesses, hospitals and government departments, we've been careful to remember that time is short – everyone has their day job to do. Sustainability activities are often voluntary, and they need to be achieved in just a few minutes each week. So we need a way for people to submit stories with almost no friction – they need to be short and sweet.
The other end of the stories is the reading. You need to put the stories up where everyone will read them – yes, this incudes noticeboards and staff magazines, and also in reception rooms, cafeterias and atriums. We've set Stories up so they don't only arrive on the web versions of CarbonCulture, but also on the ambient screens you can put around your buildings. The stories need to be 'glanceable' and to reward a casual reading.
And in the end, there's the value of all these stories. The insights shared among staff, the inspiration shared between them, the opportunities for energy saving identified and the champions empowered to act. As long as stories are being kept secret across your organisation, you have no idea what you can achieve. Stories are a hugely powerful way of activating engagement. When you include the energy savings you’ve achieved (and how these were measured), Stories become even more credible and inspiring.
“The 1960s lighting scheme at the Bloomsbury Theatre was so inefficient that maintenance staff were spending an average of 4 hours a week changing the ‘popped’ bulbs. The theatre changed all its bulbs for LEDs and is now saving 15 tonnes of CO2/year.”
The new version of Stories will allow CarbonCulture member organisations to invite Stories from their own staff – as well as external stakeholders when appropriate. It enables members to manage them and celebrate them in a way that's engaging as well as time-efficient. This is just the beginning of Stories, and we'd love to know where you'd like us to take them. Let us know in the comments or by leaving us feedback!
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