Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra, popped by our HQ in Slough last week to talk to us about story telling for sustainability. We thought it was too good to keep to ourselves so asked Ed to be our Guest Blogger. Here’s what he has to say…
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the things we need most in the world” so said Phillip Pullman, author of the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. And he’s right. Stories matter. They define how we see the world, interpret and make sense of it. They provide our cultural DNA, shape our values, our shared intentions and our notions of identity.
So the stories we tell ourselves are crucial. This is why a national narrative of ‘austerity’ is so dispiriting. It disempowers, demotivates and depresses. Instead we should remember the stories of events like the London 2012 Olympic Opening ceremony’s ‘Isles of Wonder’ in which Danny Boyle sought to refresh and reinvent Briton’s opinions of themselves, to celebrate our collective achievements and rediscover a sense of inclusive national pride.
And so it goes with sustainability. It can feel with the perfect alignment of global challenges like climate change, economic inequality or biodiversity loss that we are all quite literally going to Hell in a handcart. The evidence is all around us in a frozen spring of meteorological ‘global weirding’. And yet a defeatist or fatalistic approach is unlikely to galvanise us into the urgent action at scale that we so obviously need.
What might is the creative development of a powerful, compelling narrative of the solutions, a ‘can do’ culture of change and opportunity, towards a world which is better, fairer and more resilient. A future that ‘sizzles’ in an exciting sense not a literal climate one.
And business has a hugely important role to play in making this story real, tangible and possible. Last year my sustainability communications agency Futerra wrote a report called ‘Planet Brands’. We created an index of global businesses that had the reach, the customer loyalty and the ability to deliver sustainability at scale. But being on the Planet Brands index wasn’t a badge of recognition, it was a kick in the backside. It argued that included businesses had the potential to change the world, and that now they should live up to that.
This is why initiatives such as Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living Plan’, Kingfisher’s ‘Net Positive’, Marks and Spencer’s ‘Plan A’ and of course O2’s own ‘Think Big’ are so important. They are potent stories of change, new possibilities and transformation. They must of course be backed up by real, substantive and credible action, which I believe all of the above most certainly are, but the better the story the more the latent potential of the business in doing well by doing good will be unleashed.
In uncertain times this is crucial. We will I think increasingly look to responsible business to help lead the forthcoming transition to sustainability. Those companies with a clear sense of public purpose will be the ones that prosper. Sustainability is an adventure story and the mission has already begun.
Ed Gillespie is Co-Founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications, Chairman of online European rail ticketing business www.loco2.com and a London Sustainable Development Commissioner. Follow him via @frucool