The Power of Storytelling and Leadership in an Era of Climate Change

Hugh Anthony
Feb 7 · 6 min read

Strategies and techniques for amplifying Corporate Reporting

I recently attended a forum for finance professionals hosted by one of the world’s largest professional bodies — Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) — learning about the myriad of issues facing the profession with the ‘new normal’ — the climate crisis. The call for the profession to respond are more urgent than ever; and a question that dawdled with me was: How can businesses incorporate accounting for the climate emergency in their reporting? The recognition that there is need for leadership in how businesses respond to what is now a ‘clear and present danger’ — the climate crisis — and taking action to incorporate environmental and social impact reporting as the new normal is needed. The University of Florida Climate Institute highlighted in a research that — One of the most urgent issues of our time, climate change is also one of the toughest communications challenges of the day. The climate crisis is the zeitgeist of our times, for our humanity and businesses collectively; figures, facts and data doesn’t translate into our understanding of important issues all the time. However, storytelling in an immersive way, holds the promise to help businesses and stakeholders visualize the adaptive strategies needed in our climate-changed future.

Glacier — Dionne Kitchen Illustration

Storytelling is a crucial tool that can help businesses to embrace building narratives around complex issues, concepts and data in relation to corporate environmental responsibility (CER) and their financial statements. Stories when incorporated, assist in shaping perspectives and ideas on environmental and social governance reporting and its relevance. Stories help businesses and their stakeholders (not just shareholders) to better understand and visualize that societal and environmental returns are as important as financial returns. It is for this reason, that storytelling in an immersive way can engender for business new narratives on the climate crisis and offer increased comprehension, interests, and engagements in how they are better able to manage their overall performance in relation to natural capital and social impact.

“People don’t believe in figures, data and graphics. You need more to get their full attention and make them understand you. You need to create a story. The story is part of the success.”

Dan Fagin, Pulitzer Prize Winner

The Aware Millennial

It is urgent now more than ever, for corporate reporting to evolve to reflect and clearly articulate the role businesses are playing in the creation of sustainable value creation by measuring societal and environmental impact. Businesses that take the lead to focus on social impact as much as profits, and raise awareness of these issues in their reporting, can make a huge difference for stakeholders and a new generation of customers. Millennials and Generation Z share a bond in tackling both climate change and social justice through their buying decisions. When they recognize businesses as forerunners in positioning the issues that matter, it creates benefits and immense opportunity. The University of Washington highlighted that embracing the power of storytelling, businesses can create storytelling organizations through collaboration, best practices and communicate initiatives in a clear, meaningful and compelling manner about social and environmental value creation. Storytelling strategies and techniques can assist business in this evolution to embrace how they capture and report value creation and the societal impact of the business as a sustainable concern. Through emphasizing the following three (3) strategies: collaborated narratives, sustainable actionism and climate stories businesses can lead the way in transforming how they incorporate social and environmental impacts along with climate-related risks in their reporting:

Collaborated Narratives Framework — incorporates creating context and content for the mission, values and policies that guide the organization, resources and resolution to understand and disclose value creation and societal impact, not just financially, but also visually to highlight related challenges, risks and opportunities. This framework brings together a collection of shared themes about business, environment and society and craft narratives amongst strategic business units (SBUs) to improve sustainable outcomes.

Sustainable Actionism — include identifying and championing governance, strategies, reimagined performance metrics, solutions and targets to create visual experiences that incorporate and encapsulate for example, Agenda 2030 — UN Sustainable Development Goals and COP25 World Climate Summit — agreements, commitments and action-oriented strategies to mitigate impacts in local and global operations. This process helps businesses to amplify the concept of ‘shared value’ in CER initiatives and integrated reporting.

Climate Stories — incorporate techniques that develops and drive long-term transformation by embracing how businesses learn and share stories. Providing highlights that portray how they recognize the interconnectedness of social and environmental value, along with new understandings that empowers and inspires change in mindset, processes and outcomes. This technique illuminates the issues, reset and reshape the business and its relationship with the environment and invite stakeholders to become engaged and builds trust.

Society and Environment — C2 Montreal

Businesses and their leaders ultimately, have the responsibility to be responsive in embracing the ‘new normal’, having leaders visioning beyond the financial statements, by championing the abovementioned strategies and techniques. In doing so, businesses are better able to respond to the challenge of adaptability with the climate emergency our humanity is experiencing and the upheavals our planet is encountering. Through the utilization of storytelling (See related article — Building Brand Authenticity Through Executive Storytelling) to amplify data and embolden analyses with narratives, visualization and reimagined futures as a strategic approach, leaders can highlight ways of understanding, communicating, and influencing stakeholders and societal values that accounts for climate change adaptation and mitigation reporting. These storytelling processes add a deeper dimension to how businesses and their leadership communicate with their stakeholders and harmonized societal concerns; as well as helping to make their processes, profits and environmental stewardship more inclusive and sustainable.

Storytelling strategies and techniques add a deeper dimension to how businesses communicate from an outcomes-based perspective, through eco-friendly initiatives, collaborated narratives and sustainable actionism. Businesses and their brands are more than their financial statements; it encompasses their stories too. In 2019, Business Roundtable’s statement of corporate purpose stressed that businesses can play a major role in improving society, and that organizations should be led for the benefit of all stakeholders, and not just shareholders. Business leaders can foster a more inclusive approach to social and environmental impact reporting through storytelling, espousing that the business is committed to improving well-being not just for shareholders; for the benefit of all and the wider society, including our planet — The Earth. How about your organization, are the leaders thinking beyond the office towers, factory gates and service outlets? Storytelling ought to be part of the business’ DNA. Its success is intertwined not just in the financial statements of businesses, but also in the stories that illuminates the challenges, the initiatives and good they do for our communities and society.

References

Accounting for the planet, Accountancy Futures — Critical Issues for Tomorrow’s Profession, ACCA, Edition 19, 2019.

Jones, M. D. and Peterson, H. (2017). Narrative persuasion and storytelling as climate communication Strategies Climate Science

Buonocore, M. (2019), Storytelling is part of the solution to the climate dilemma

https://www.climateforesight.eu/future-hearth/storytelling-is-part-of-the-solution-to-the-climate-dilemma/

Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, (4), September 2014.

Benites- Lazaro, L.L. , Mello-Théry, N.A. and Lahensa, M. (2017), Business storytelling about energy and climate change: The case of Brazil’s ethanol industry. Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 31, Pages 77–85.

Suzuki, W., Feliú-Mójer, M.I., Hasson, U., Yehuda, R. and Zarate, J.M/ (2018), Dialogues: The Science and power of storytelling, Journal of Neuroscience , Vol. 38 (44).

© Hugh Anthony, PhD

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    Hugh Anthony

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    Storyteller, Lifestyle Coach and Principal Director leveraging experiences to help organizations engender meaningful impact. www.linkedin.com/in/hughanthony

    The Startup

    Medium's largest active publication, followed by +581K people. Follow to join our community.

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