The Storytelling Lab - Ep29: Environmental Storytelling with Brian Powell
Updated: Apr 27
This week we welcome Brian Powell, Communications Director for the NC Conservation Network. Brian works every day to bring light to stories of environmental injustice affecting the people of North Carolina. We discuss how the NC Conservation Network uses communication to contribute to policy change, why the environmental movement is moving towards human-centric messaging, and how to tell big picture stories through micro-stories.
I’ll admit, I haven’t been as dedicated to protecting our environmental health as I wish I had.
Part of the reason is because I, like many people, tend to get caught up only in the things that affect my current, day-to-day life and overlook issues that are way “bigger” than me. I feel like maybe they are too big for me to make an impact.
That has changed now, for two reasons -- and they both come back to storytelling.
First, I hosted one of our Health and Happiness storytelling nights on environmental health, as I knew this was a topic that people (myself included) needed to hear about. The speakers gave us all actionable steps to take and changes we could make in our own homes and lives that very day.
Second, I had Brian Powell on my show.
Brian is the Communications Director for the NC Conservation Network and he works every day to bring light to stories of environmental injustice affecting the people of North Carolina.
The way he talked about his mission and how we wanted to help those overlooked, underprivileged and underrepresented folks that are the victims of environmental injustice lit a fire in me. His passion was palpable.
Several times I got choked up just listening to him talk.
He's doing the same things I want to do: help people be their happiest and healthiest selves.
I just had never pursued it from this angle.
Brian understands on a major level how when we humanize the issues of climate change, racial equity, and protecting the natural heritage, we give a face to them and that makes it easier for people to understand how it relates to them.
Brian understands that nothing has that power like storytelling.
He strives to share the stories of those who are typically voiceless, in an effort to inspire people to step up and take action to help. And not just for a media opportunity. For the long term.
“There are faces behind the missions that we are trying to accomplish and pivoting to those people, to the people who are vulnerable, to the people who are impacted by pollution, that is what I think is important. I think that’s what drives political action. That’s what drives public attention, public opinion, those kinds of things, because we connect with one another.”
Brian and I discuss how the NC Conservation Network uses communication to contribute to policy change, why the environmental movement is moving towards human-centric messaging, and how to tell big picture stories through micro-stories.
I cannot emphasize enough how fueled I was by talking with him. These are stories we all need to hear, because if we don’t find a way to come together and take action, we are all in trouble.
Some highlights of our conversation:
How Brian grew up knowing he wants to leave the world a better place but struggled to find a specific plan
Studied journalism & poli-sci for undergrad, then went to UNC law
Brian’s work with death penalty law in NC
How he transitioned into a media & communications role through political media research
His current work at the NC Conservation Network as the Communications Director
How the environmental justice issues he focuses on in NC disproportionately affect minority and low income communities
How environmental issues are affecting rural communities in eastern NC
The kinds of stories that Brian is trying to bring light to in his work
Why developing empathy for others is very important & helps you communicate more effectively
Why the environmental movement is moving from “protect the earth for its own sake” messaging, to messaging that is more human centered
How you can help your audience connect with one another by focusing on the people affected by the issues you’re trying to fix
Why it’s important to bring the problem to a human level
How you can lift people up who are in the communities that are affected by environmental issues
Finding the intersections between environment and health
How to tell the bigger picture through a micro-story
How NC Conservation Network uses social platforms (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook)
Why it’s important to build trust with the people whose stories you choose to tell
Why you need to be authentic in your communication
How the NC Conservation Network helps other organizations to tell their story over video
How more and more documentaries are focusing on environmental issues
Using a podcast to build relationships with journalists, other environmental groups, and the people affected by the issues you discuss
How communication always comes back to building relationships
What the NC Conservation Network is keeping an eye out for in 2020: chickens
Sometimes environmental issues seem overwhelming - how do you keep up with the day to day when the issue looks and is so large?
Being aware of the good stuff, and telling those stories too: you need to be able to provide hope, and some vision of what the future could look like
Taking the time to celebrate the progressive environmental decisions that are made
As always, I hope you enjoy the episode!
Peace and Love,
Follow Brian on Instagram @FocusBrian
Follow NC Conservation Network on Instagram @ncconservationnetwork
Follow NC Conservation Network on Twitter @NCConservation
For more storytelling tips and tricks,
Follow us on Instagram @sixsecondstories
Visit our website sixsecondstories.com
MORE related content:
Check out Brain's podcast, The Dirt, WNCU 90.7 FM
Watch The Devil We Know, a documentary about GenX, a toxic chemical found in local drinking water supplies
Watch Dark Waters (Out Nov 22!), a new film coming out about the GenX, Dupont chemical spill
If you're interested in the North Carolina documentary world, look into Working Films, a Wilmington, NC company devoted to helping filmmakers create documentaries to advance social justice and environmental protection