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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.

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Presentation on theme: "The Power of Narrative: Telling the Story of Sustainability in Higher Education Blaine Collison, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Joshua Lasky."— Presentation transcript:

1 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)

2 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

3 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?

4 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?

5 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.

6 Later: Tweet-sized Bite Tell your institution’s sustainability story in 140 characters or less.

7 Elements of an Effective Story Engage your audience (Hey! Over here!) Give them something (Here’s something you want) Hold their attention (Gotta get to the next step) Drive reaction (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.

8 EFFICIENT CREDIBLEAUTHENTIC CULTURAL VALUE-ADDED SYSTEMS-BASED AWAKENINGPIONEERINGTRANSFORMATION AWARENESS APPLICATION & INVESTMENT PROGRESS UNDERSTANDING CHANGE (TRANSITIONAL) (TRANSFORMATIVE) INITIAL RECRUITMENT COALITION BUILDING MUTUAL SYMBIOSIS PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION LOW-RISK PILOT INTEGRATION Campus Sustainability Journey PEOPLEPROJECTSINSTITUTION Concept: Julie Newman, Leith Sharp, & Norman Christopher X-AXIS: SUSTAINABILITY PERCEPTIONSY-AXIS: DECISION-MAKING BASIS

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10 Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

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12 All narratives are imperfect, and potentially dangerous. Yet we cannot live without them so we should tell and enact our stories wisely.

13 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.)

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16 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......

17 By Fall 1999, the only remnant was the Campus Beautification Committee, which was selecting furniture for Main Hall.

18 West Chester University Mission Statement This did not appear in the catalogs “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.”

19 Plan for Excellence 2007 Update “Encourage environmental awareness through training, curricula, and co- curricular programming, assess and reduce the ecological impact of the University, and promote research and service that foster regional and global sustainability.”

20 Mitch Thomashow Visited WCU: February

21 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)

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24 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 or contact Dr. Paul Morgan at

25 Sustainability Coordinator (Half-Time) Reports directly to the President

26 WCU Strategic Planning Process WCU Strategic Planning Committee “Sustainability” one of 5 Themes

27 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

28 But... I often get the feeling that all of this is happening in a bubble

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30 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.

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32 Once upon a time... there was a planet

33 6 th Mass Extinction

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36 Footprints and Consumption

37 Climate Change

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39 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.

40 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...

41 A story about a civilizational train...

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46 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

47 “Avoidance” “Magical Thinking”

48 Some Problems Deliberate worldview change is 1) Unprecedented 2) Not widely desired 3) Fraught with paradoxes Less Unsustainable

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50 Where do we go from here? A Creative Storytelling Leap

51 How do we mind the gap? Less Unsustainability Sustainability

52 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.”

53 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?

54 What is the story of how this happened?

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56 Telling Our Stories

57 Keep it positive...

58 Be bold and visionary

59 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?

60 Inspiration What historical lessons can we take inspiration from? What will inspire us to see our work in epoch-making proportions?

61 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.

62 Instructions – Tweet-sized Bite Tell your institution’s sustainability story in 140 characters or less.

63 “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story.” --Thomas Berry

64 The Power of Narrative: Telling the Story of Sustainability in Higher Education Blaine Collison Joshua Lasky Paul Morgan


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