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Peoples’ stories shine new light on sustainability agenda in APM-funded research

The workplace stories and work-related identities of project professionals play an important role in their desire to achieve sustainability goals, new research has shown.

A new report, Sustainability: Inclusive storytelling to aid sustainable development goals, which is funded by Association for Project Management (APM), draws its findings from life-story interviews with 60 sustainability experts working in project-related roles, from a broad range of business sectors.

The report’s author, Dr Natalya Sergeeva (pictured), associate professor at the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, University College London, says the storytelling approach to the research was used to better understand the perspectives of sustainability practitioners about how they are addressing the sustainability agenda in their work and day-to-day lives – including in relation to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The study shows that a range of stories, work identities and roles – such as ‘champions’, ‘facilitators’, ‘influencers’, ‘enforcers’, ‘coaches’, ‘communicators’ and more – emerge in response to the sustainability agenda. The report explores each of these identities and makes several recommendations for education, policy and practice, based on its findings. These include:

  • Practitioners adopting a more holistic approach to sustainability;
  • Creating sustainability strategies as a vision and reminder to act upon and achieve sustainable development goals;
  • Ensuring continuous renewal of the content of sustainability assessments, to create new and improved standards;
  • Creating new roles within organisations for sustainability co-ordinator and/or chief sustainability officers;
  • Organisations should attract funding from a variety of sources for practicing sustainability and responding to sustainable development goals.

A lens to understand perceptions

Dr Sergeeva told APM: “It is through stories of everyday life experience we learn how people feel and make sense of sustainability and practices associated with it. Storytelling is a powerful lens through which we could understand perceptions of practitioners and what they do to address the sustainability goals, set nationally and internationally.”

She added that, while the research process posed some challenges, she hopes the stories shared in the new report and the associated conclusions would inspire project professionals to learn from each other and implement positive changes.

She said: “Stories are personalised and emotional in nature. It is important to put care, respect and understanding when listening to other people’s stories. Asking the right questions – ones that make people feel comfortable and open to talk and share stories – was very important.
“Sharing stories enables people to learn from each other and implement those learnings in their own lives. It is great to see that people do make the effort and are proactive in doing little things every day that help to achieve sustainability targets.”

Sustainability: Inclusive storytelling to aid sustainable development goals is available to download now.


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