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3.5 Concluding Thoughts

Narrative theory provides us with insight into how communication channels such as architecture, sustainability reports, websites, and public meetings can be persuasive by means other than rational, scientific appeals (Browning 2009). Rhetorical scholar Walter Fisher (1987) discussed the homo narrans metaphor arguing that people are essentially storytellers. Corporate communicators find storytelling to be a useful way to think about the messages they create for external and internal stakeholders as they seek legitimacy (Norlyk et al. 2013). We use stories to provide good reasons to guide our decision making. What counts as a good story is influenced by factors such as history and culture. Listeners judge whether or not stories are coherent (narrative probability) and ring true (narrative fidelity).

Authors have sought to identify basic archetypal themes appearing in stories. For example, Booker (2006) identified seven themes—three of which are especially useful when thinking about organizational actions related to sustainability and/or in the face of climate change: overcoming the monster, rebirth, and quest. The first is the classic underdog story; the second is a story of renewal; and the third tells of a mission from point A to point B. Sustainability stories can fit into all three themes. Oakley Brooks, Senior Media Manager of Ecotrust, said:

A lot of organizations are putting more and more effort into story-telling.. .. There is an opportunity to connect stories .. . to the work that makes change. You know, the change work organizations typically do and by doing that .. . connecting to the public in new ways. The public is searching for big, hopeful, narratives now and that is what we are trying to provide .. .. Once you are done with the story, what happens next? How do you connect all the people that really got into that story to do the work?

Organizational stories are powerful and memorable. They stimulate our senses and arouse our emotions, and because they tap into well-established story types, they activate schemas in our brains (Browning 2009). Action Plan: Look at some sustainability-related organizational documents and identify the stories they are telling. Listen to the sustainability-related stories circulating in your workplace. How do you judge their coherence and truthfulness? Are they inspiring you to think/ act in a more sustainable way? How might you use stories differently as a form of strategic communication?

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