Public Lab Research note

Tips for environmental storytelling

by joyofsoy | August 07, 2020 15:54 07 Aug 15:54 | #24285 | #24285

I started working in communications over a decade ago because I love helping people tell their stories. For me, there's nothing more exciting than helping people to get to the core of an issue to communicate a story in a way that will reach people and have an impact. When we're overwhelmed with trying to figure out what's happening in our communities and what we can do about it, it's easy to forget about the importance of sharing the human impact when sharing our stories or asking for help. Here are some tips that can help when you're talking about environmental impacts. [Disclaimer: these tips tend to be more applicable to U.S. audiences]

Make it personal

In interviewing people on numerous topics over the years, whether it be about human rights work, LGBTQ experiences, or environmental concerns, one of the most useful questions I've found is "Why is this issue important to you?" While bias and political divisions may turn people off to terms like "climate change" and "environmental justice," many people can relate to "I'm worried about my health and the health of my family."

When you're telling your story, make it personal. Explain what you've experienced or what others in your family or community have experienced. Why does it concern you? Who is being impacted? How have their lives changed?

Consider your platform

When posting to social media, recognize that each platform is unique. Twitter is great for links and short messages, Instagram works well for photos and short videos (or longer videos through IGTV), and Facebook is especially useful for sharing links, event pages, and video. Try to avoid creating a flyer or message and copy-and-pasting on all three platforms. Instead, tailor each message to each platform.

Things to think about: Is your event something you can stream on Facebook Live? Is there a trending hashtag on Twitter related to your topic? Do you have some great photos to share for #TBT (Throwback Thursday) on Instagram? Generate content on a regular basis and figure out what posting frequency people respond to.

When trying to get a story picked up by a newspaper, magazine, or online news outlet, sending a press release is less effective than it once was. While it may be difficult to get your story picked up by a newspaper or national press outlet, letters to the editor are often useful. Newspapers, especially local papers, often share opinions and feedback from community members.

Also, figure out who the local beat reporters are. Are there certain reporters who often write about science, the environment, or legislation? Contact them directly. Follow them on Twitter. They may not respond, but it's worth asking if they know about a story or if there's a reporter who usually handles similar topics.

Work together

Starting a movement from scratch is a daunting task, and it's easy to feel alone. Chances are, though, that there are others who are already doing similar or related work. Sharing your story with them gives you the chance to join an established community with existing structures, networks, knowledge, and support.

If you're not finding others in your community who are exploring a specific topic of environmental concern, think about intersectionality. If you're concerned about microplastics you've seen in your local river but can't find others working on microplastics, are there groups working on water quality or conservation? Are there people who monitor the oil and gas industry, or protect fisheries? If you're noticing strong sulfur smells coming from a waste site, are there air quality groups that deal with similar issues? From there, think bigger. Are there national or international organizations that work on similar concerns or something that might fall under their umbrella?

Also, think about where people gather locally. If you're trying to get people to sign a petition or discuss a topic, where do gatherings already exist? Consider city council meetings, faith communities, neighborhood groups (including the NextDoor app and Facebook groups), parks, grocery stores, and coffee shops. Are there bulletin boards where you can post a flyer? Can you schedule time to present your ideas?

Public Lab is a great resource for connecting with people worldwide who might be dealing with similar issues. Have a look at topics that are relevant to you and see what others are saying about it. Subscribe to tags so you can see when people post new questions or activities about the topic. Post a question using the Question & Answer forum, or post an Issue Brief to share your story about an environmental concern and reach out to others for ideas.


This is lovely ❤️ . Thanks for sharing

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I really like your tip of framing it as "I'm worried about my health and the health of my family." People pay attention to that, and the concept is neither divisive nor political.

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, everyone can understand concerns for your family and community, right? It really helps cut through the divisions.

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