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Turning sustainability cynics into storytellers

By George Ames

Your business purpose is clear and you have a strong social change ambition – but now it needs to become a reality.  How can you find the tipping point where ownership shifts from a few individuals to a company-wide culture that is hardwired into decision making and behaviours?

Typically, employees will be segmented according to their role and responsibility, with information about your sustainability programme provided on that basis. And while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach, if there is a genuine desire to change employee action then it’s time to bring 20 years of behaviour change experience into business and think of your business as a community.

Business as a community

Communities are complex. They contain multiple audience segments with varied beliefs, influencers, interests, barriers to action and motivations. Despite this, they are interrelated and can become quickly bound together through common and shared experiences.

Behaviour change theory is rooted in the belief that only by understanding individual barriers and motivators and using these insights to speak directly to those individuals, can the correct messages and interventions be created.  Some people will be moved by hard evidence, others self-interest, other altruism and emotional triggers. The core issue being embedded and shared will guide this – it is incorrect to consider one segment as always having the same requirements, irrespective of the theme.

By thinking of a business as a community, and employees as individuals with attitudes rather than roles, it becomes easier to cut through departmental differences and unite individuals who hold similar views and interests.  We have identified six core audience segments within a business community, each of which needs to be treated differently, mindful that they are highly likely to be at different stages of the sustainability journey: Outriders, Storytellers, Followers, Cynics, Self-assureds and Rejectors.

Getting the critical mass involved

From harnessing the early adopters to engaging the storytellers so that the followers will do just that, there are clear pathways to get the critical mass involved. It is possible, and desirable, for audiences to move from one segment to another but turning cynics into storytellers requires more careful consideration. Often is the case that your cynics and self-assureds are so influential that you want them to join from the start to help shape and own the programme.

It won’t happen overnight, but we’ve helped many organisations turn their ambition into action in this way. They now have a programme that is owned by the business, exists at all levels and makes their employees proud.  If you’d like to explore how we can take you on this journey then please get in touch –

Forster became a founding UK B Corporation in 2015 and since then has won four Best for the World awards. We continue to push the boundaries as a progressive business, being recognised as the Edie Sustainability Consultancy of the year in 2019.