Storytelling for Sustainability – How to Tell a Great Story

Storytelling has been an important form of communication for millennia, and in our media-saturated society, stories are everywhere.  Whether telling a story to educate in the classroom, or to communicate a corporate brand’s commitment to social responsibility, storytelling has become an essential tool to convey a message.  But how do we tell a great story, a story that stands out, a story that truly speaks to our intended audience, a story that has a purpose?

For five years, GLP Films has shared the positive stories of organizations, nonprofits, and corporations working to create a more sustainable world.  Through the medium of short film, GLP uses the power of storytelling to educate and inform audiences about global issues, but more importantly, to inspire local action that makes a difference.

revolution foodsMost recently, GLP has used their Student Film Project to encourage students to pick up the storytelling torch.  Students of all grade levels share positive examples of sustainability from the real world, inspiring people to partake in the journey and become part of the solution.  No matter the filmmaker’s skill level, at its core, a story must connect to its intended audience.  Ultimately the true measure of a great story is how it impacts others.

So what components make a great story?  For starters, you need to identify the:

  1. Purpose – Why does this story need to be told?  What do you want it to accomplish?
  2. Setting – What locations or scenes are important to the story?
  3. Characters – Who are the key characters or subjects of the story?  Who drives the story and makes your audience care?

Once you have identified the Purpose, Setting, and Characters, it is important to examine additional storytelling elements.  Make sure to ask yourself these questions when creating your story.

  1. Is the story unique or cutting edge?  Has the story already been told?
  2. Is it a positive story that inspires?
  3. Is the story educational, informative or useful?
  4. Is the story personal?  Does it show passion, emotion and honesty, and connect to the audience?
  5. Is it concise? In storytelling, especially short films, oftentimes less is more.
  6. Is it authentic? Make sure to discuss all issues, and explore all viewpoints, the good and the bad.
  7. Does it call viewers into action or provide a way to get involved?

When producing a film or story to create change, it is important to envision your end result.  View your story as the catalyst that provides an opportunity to bring new information to an audience and inspires action and engagement.  As the storyteller you have the opportunity to introduce an important issue and possible solutions, direct your viewers to additional resources, and get them fired up to take action.  How can your story lead to a new understanding, a growing appreciation of culture and heritage, a stronger connection to community, or a deeper commitment to protecting our environment?  There may not be a clear answer from the onset of your project, but keeping the end goals in mind can lead to the most impactful storytelling that truly resonates with your audience and accomplishes your intended purpose.

Here are a couple of stories from GLP Films’ biannual Student Film Project contest that exemplify the components above.

“Women’s Group” by Perrylayne Decker-Tate, Salt Lake Community College

“Dirty Little Secret” by Sam de Castro Abeger, University of California, Santa Barbara

For additional storytelling tips, check out GLP Films’ resources for student filmmaking.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that connects audiences to important issues, different cultures, and a better understanding of our world.  As storytellers, we have the opportunity to shine a light on the positive examples all around us.  We have the power of our voice; the power of a message to unite, to immobilize, and inspire.  So let us be the storytellers that create the change we wish to see in the world.


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