Jeffrey Skilling
2 minute read

A presentation at the USGBC Northern California Rising Leaders Committee shared strategies for creating successful narratives.

As sustainability leaders, the metrics around human-caused climate change are straightforward and simple. The need for sustainable lifestyle choices and the benefits of sustainable design are obvious to us. We are driven by a deep understanding of the problems at hand and a passion to do better.

However, this is not the case for everyone. When it comes to our clients, our firm leaders and others who lack experience in sustainability, these facts alone may not inspire action.

The USGBC Northern California Rising Leaders Committee recognizes the uphill battle that many sustainability advocates face. On Aug. 14, Amanda von Almen, Head of Sustainable Built Environment for Salesforce, led us in an interactive evening, "Knowing Your Sustainability Story," to help develop narratives that will build coalitions within our companies and communities to build a greener future.

Change may not come quickly or easily, but knowing your sustainability story will help you implement change more effectively.

The presentation made it evident that everyone has a different sustainability story, but that it helps to follow a certain framework to convince others of your vision. Here are four tips from the evening:

1. Continuity: Frame the conversation.

Create a continuous narrative that relates back to previous conversations. You will have many visions; the key is to connect them to a bigger picture. At Salesforce, von Almen starts every presentation with four standard slides:

  • My Team: "We are your champions”
  • The Problem: “Buildings produce 40% of carbon emissions”
  • Relate to Audience: “Salesforce owns buildings…we are part of the problem”
  • Vision: “Here is my vision”

To this point, von Almen emphasized the importance that graphics play in continuity. A strong graphic style will help visually cue your audience about the bigger picture of your sustainability story.

2. Know your audience and levers.

Depending on your audience, find mutual value and relate it back to your story. While your vision stays consistent, your levers may vary. While data may convince some, others might act more emotionally. In addition, the risk of nonaction can be just as motivating as reward of action.

3. Do work through others.

While we are the experts, we may not always be the voice. In most cases, the sustainability champion at your company will not be at every interview or client meeting. It is the job of sustainability champions to arm everyone with the rhetoric (levers) and tools to make them look good. The key is repetition and simplicity. Make it so that sustainability is second nature, not a burden.

4. Inspire to act.

Create a regular drumbeat. Keep the conversation going and don’t let it stop, making sure to always relate back to your sustainability story. Repetition is key to retention, so continuously plant sustainability seeds, and you will see how others begin to grasp and become inspired by the metrics. Most important, recognize and publicize successes. Success stories and anecdotes of others using your levers and tools will be the best way to inspire them to do more.

There was a special energy in the room as the session began to conclude, an aura of possibility. You could see and feel the wheels turning as the attendees began to think how they may apply what they learned to their work. This great event was organized by Rising Leaders members Lindsey Conlan and Vasudha Rathi.

We hope to see you at the next USGBC Northern California Rising Leaders Committee event! For more information about getting involved, please email the Rising Leaders Co-Chairs Halie Colbourne and Mia Brondum.

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