Sustainability: The Missing Narrative

On Monday this week, World Earth Day was celebrated.

Well, is it really about celebrating? Do we celebrate what we still have or what we have lost already? 🤔

Looking at the media coverage of the last few days, I rather find an overarching motif of threat and loss, than one of hope and success.


Since I currently explore storytelling use cases with the great video tool Cofenster, I briefly created an Instagram story around this topic.

Fun fact: While filming in one of the parks nearby I talked to a few random passengers and NO ONE was aware of World Earth Day (I also tried with the German term 'Weltklimatag'). And even in my personal 'woke' bubble, I doubt that anyone knows, that this event existed since 1995, making it the 54. edition in 2024, and that this year's theme was "Planet vs. Plastics".

I am not convinced that the dates of the Asia Sustainable Plastics Summit, or the  UN Plastic Pollution INC meeting, were intentionally set around this date, at least there were no direct links in the communication. And the (weakened) EU Single Use Plastics ban was only decided two days later.


Did you feel, initiate, or follow any call to action on World Earth Day? Are you aware of the concepts of World Earth Hour and World Overshoot Day? Would you be able to explain the meaning of these events to a 6-year-old? Watch my short movie and see what ChatGPT suggested...


A list of 10 questions
World Earth Day queries, according to Perplexity


From many studies in cognitive science, we know that our human brain 

  • is hardwired to acknowledge threat more than happiness
  • always strives for coherence to navigate a complex world
  • needs strong triggers to not react via 'fast thinking' and autopilot but to reflect and eventually make different choices or change behavior

That's why it's easy for us to add some doom and gloom news to a fatalistic attitude, to get lost in the conflicting messages of 'experts', politicians, and influencers, and to feel no need to act in our European comfort zone - because we don't know what to do anyway.


Studying online with the SDG academy and talking about it to people with diverse jobs and backgrounds, I recognize that most people are not very aware of the terms, and even less of the goals' details. 

In German maybe the lack of catchy terminology adds to the problem, we also talk about SDGs (pronounced 'EsDeeGhees') without translating the full words, the official web portal refers on top to the 'Agenda 2030', which is a quite generic term when used in other contexts and considering the many industry and corporate strategy programs labeled similarly, but only focusing marginally on the SDGs. 


Generally, I struggle with naming the 17 goals by heart myself - this Indian mnemo technique proposal slightly helps - but I think we generally need more concrete stories for each of the goals, or goals' clusters, to connect emotionally. 


In my opinion, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs are currently still the most widely accepted overarching framework we can refer to, and many global companies are already doing so in their strategies, such as UnileverPhilips, and IKEA.
These large companies obviously have dedicated teams to develop, integrate, and communicate the efforts, which is much harder for smaller companies or startups,to do, but it's worth doing, and linking it to regulatory tasks under the growing European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) and other regulatory directives.

Screenshot with graphics

And there are so many activities that can inform and inspire corporate and public conversations.


Recently there was an open letter to the world leaders, published by Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and co-signed by many VIPs.


Even if the message focuses on macroeconomics, the discussion of loss and damage, global north and global south, and positive or negative contribution to the country's pollution could be a trigger for communication efforts.

The same is true for SDG artinitiatives, and toolkits.


With AI allowing very fast ideation and creation, even more opportunities emerge.

Try a prompt like this one with ChatGPT, Claude or Copilot:

"Tell me a coherent fictional story, following the hero's journey concept, and incorporating the 17 sustainable development goals. If your context sets limitations, feel free to extend in more chapters over several answers. Make it compelling, with strong characters and dialogues, offering identification for anyone on earth. Ask me if you need more input to complete the task."

I did it on Poe with several Bots and did not only get a nice script but also according to visual proposals for my potential movie. All of that in 10 minutes' time. So many new crowd storytelling options!


In February more than 23.000 people in my hometown Hamburg signed a political request to reach a quorum.

The goal: Revamp the Hamburg commitment to climate. The politically agreed goal of being climate neutral (100% CO2 emission reduction compared to 1990) was originally set for 2050, then amended to 2045, but the initiative would like to aim for 2040. 


In 2040 I will be retired (at least formally, I expect to be still active, though 😉) and my son, getting married this summer, will probably have one or two teenage kids.

In 2050 I would be already in my eighties and my grandchildren may already have kids on their own. The ten years in between mark quite a difference for myself and my family, but they also do for our climate and planet.


The Hamburg initiative will need about 67.000 signatures in September/October to reach political relevance. Maybe the campaigners find a way to create emotional awareness, e.g. based on the insight 'five years matter' in individual lives.


As a Hamburg citizen, I am going to vote for the next step of the initiative in autumn, the petition for a referendum (for fellow Hamburgers, find out about it HERE), well knowing that the transition might eventually affect key aspects of our urban economy and infrastructure. 

As a transformation communicator and facilitator, it will be my pleasure to support organizations and companies in Hamburg and elsewhere to engage people with storytelling and storyacting and make faster and bold steps for sustainable life on this planet. As stated in my video: The next event, the World Overshoot Day, is already in summer, and it holds a strong message.


Feel free to book a slot in my calendar to talk about sustainability narratives, CTAs, and more.

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