The Power of Narrati..

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The Power of Narrative:
Telling the Story of Sustainability in Higher Education
Blaine Collison, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Joshua Lasky University of the District of Columbia (UDC)
Paul Morgan West Chester University of PA (WCU)
The Power of Narrative
“Our genius lies in our capacity to make meaning
through the creation of narratives that give point to
our labors, exalt our history, elucidate the present,
and give direction to our future.”
Neil Postman, The End of Education
Introduction:
Where we’re going today
Presentation:
The elements of successful narrative
Examples from campus sustainability and beyond
Discussion:
How do we tell stories that drive more action?
What are YOUR campus sustainability stories?
Later: Telling Your Sustainability Story
1. What’s the story you have actually been enacting?
2. What’s the story you want, hope, need to enact?
Are they the same?
3. How can you retell the story of your work in a way
that celebrates successes while acknowledging the
enormity of the sustainability challenge?
4. What can you do that makes it more likely that
surprising, non-linear change will happen?
Later: The Elevator Pitch
What is your institution’s sustainability
story? Tell that story in one minute or
less to the person sitting next to you.
Later: Tweet-sized Bite
Tell your institution’s sustainability
story in 140 characters or less.
Elements of an Effective Story
Engage your audience
Give them something
Hold their attention
Drive reaction
(Hey! Over here!)
(Here’s something you want)
(Gotta get to the next step)
(DO something; Think, act, buy)
Examples - Six word stories:
Smoking my very last cigarette. Again.
Knife hidden, he rings the doorbell.
Solar energy spill: Nice summer day.
Campus Sustainability Journey
AWAKENING
PIONEERING
TRANSFORMATION
CHANGE
(TRANSFORMATIVE)
VALUE-ADDED
SYSTEMS-BASED
Concept: Julie Newman, Leith Sharp, & Norman Christopher
PROGRESS
(TRANSITIONAL)
EFFICIENT
APPLICATION &
INVESTMENT
UNDERSTANDING
AWARENESS
CREDIBLE
Y-AXIS: DECISION-MAKING BASIS
X-AXIS: SUSTAINABILITY PERCEPTIONS
CULTURAL
AUTHENTIC
INSTITUTION
PROJECTS
PEOPLE
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___.
One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of
that, ___. Until finally ___.
>
All narratives are imperfect, and
potentially dangerous. Yet we cannot
live without them so we should tell and
enact our stories wisely.
Mastering Behavior Change
How can we take back the art of storytelling and
put it to use in the sustainability movement?
(Master storytellers are behavior change engineers.
Right now, the masters are people who have managed
to successfully get us to buy stuff we don’t need, get
us to eat things that are slowly killing us, and
otherwise waste our time/health/money.)
West Chester University:
Green Campus Pioneer (sort of)
WCU’s Green Campus Committee was
charged by President Adler in November 1992
“to function as a task force and spend one year
studying the feasibility of West Chester
University becoming a green campus.”
But . . . . . .
By Fall 1999, the only remnant was the Campus Beautification
Committee, which was selecting furniture for Main Hall.
West Chester University Mission Statement
2000-2001
“As part of this commitment to the future, the University is
becoming a green campus designed to demonstrate that a
community can, through inquiry and education, act in a
manner consistent with the goal of a sustainable earth.”
This did not appear in the 2001-2002 catalogs
Plan for Excellence 2007 Update
“Encourage environmental awareness
through training, curricula, and cocurricular programming, assess and
reduce the ecological impact of the
University, and promote research and
service that foster regional and global
sustainability.”
Mitch Thomashow
Visited WCU:
February 23-25 2009
President Greg Weisenstein’s
Inaugural Address
“Regardless of our students' choice of major,
upon graduation from West Chester University,
they should be clearly identifiable as champions
of the environment.” (September 25, 2009)
Are you ready to start earning a certificate in Education for Sustainability?
Learn how to help others understand the challenge of sustainability and become active
participants in solutions. You’ll be prepared to create real change in your profession, community,
and daily life with courses that emphasize outdoor, experiential, and project-based learning.
Visit www.wcupa.edu or contact Dr. Paul Morgan at 610-436-6945 [email protected]
Sustainability Coordinator
(Half-Time) Reports directly to the President
WCU Strategic Planning Process
WCU Strategic Planning Committee
“Sustainability” one of 5 Themes
Reflections & Lessons
•
•
•
•
•
•
Think big, but don’t fail; it poisons the water for years
Learn how the bureaucracy works
Focus on critical leverage points (e.g. The Strategic Plan)
Make effective use of outside experts
Top-level support helps, but start where you are
Act like you belong at the table, not like a marginalized,
glorified student environmental club
• Reach out – go beyond the usual suspects
But . . . I often get the feeling that
all of this is happening in a bubble
Occasionally we glimpse a bigger story
outside the institutional bubble with its
familiar paradigm of change management:
goal-setting, action-planning, implementation,
assessment, evaluation, etc.
Once upon a time . . .
there was a planet
6th
Mass Extinction
6th Mass Extinction
Footprints and Consumption
Climate
Change
Crisis of Professional Narrative
This story of the planet has brought me to a crisis
point in my story as a sustainability professional.
For sustainability in higher education, these are
“good” times, but the reality is that there is an
enormous gap separating the severity of the
planetary crisis and even my best responses to it.
Grappling with the Crisis of Narrative
How can we operate in the old story –
where we have our current jobs and a
habitual way of life – while simultaneously
telling and making a new story in which we
open up the possibility of a viable future?
Here’s how I’ve been grappling with the gap . . .
A story about a civilizational train . . .
A Hard Truth
“Almost everything being done in the name of
sustainable development addresses and
attempts to reduce unsustainability. But
reducing unsustainability, although critical,
does not and will not create sustainability”
--John R. Ehrenfeld, Sustainability by Design
“Avoidance”
“Magical Thinking”
Some Problems
Deliberate worldview change is
Less 1)
Unsustainable
Unprecedented
2) Not widely desired
3) Fraught with paradoxes
Where do we go from here?
A Creative Storytelling Leap
How do we mind the gap?
Less
Unsustainability
Sustainability
Daniel Quinn
“If there are still people here in 200 years,
they won’t be thinking the way we do. I can
make that prediction with confidence, because
if people go on thinking the way we do, then
they’ll go on living the way we do—and there
won’t be any people here in 200 years.”
What story will they tell?
What is the story people will tell – in
2212 – about how we managed to get
off track, cross the chasm, and begin
telling and making a new story?
What is the story of how this happened?
Telling Our Stories
Keep it positive . . .
Be bold and visionary
Telling Your Sustainability Story
1. What’s the story you have actually been enacting?
2. What’s the story you want, hope, need to enact?
Are they the same?
3. How can you retell the story of your work in a way
that celebrates successes while acknowledging the
enormity of the sustainability challenge?
4. What can you do that makes it more likely that
surprising, non-linear change will happen?
Inspiration
• What historical lessons can we take
inspiration from?
• What will inspire us to see our work
in epoch-making proportions?
Instructions – Elevator Pitch
What is your institution’s sustainability
story? Tell that story in one minute or
less to the person sitting next to you.
Instructions – Tweet-sized Bite
Tell your institution’s sustainability
story in 140 characters or less.
“It’s all a question of story. We are
in trouble just now because we do
not have a good story.”
--Thomas Berry
The Power of Narrative:
Telling the Story of Sustainability in Higher Education
Blaine Collison [email protected]
Joshua Lasky [email protected]
Paul Morgan [email protected]
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