By Asitha Jayawardena
From the beginning, I was a storyteller with an eye for detail.
Engineering, Green buildings, Education for Sustainability, Sustainability and English
First, on my qualifications.
After obtaining three A’s and a B at the GCE (Advanced Level) Examination in Sri Lanka, I graduated from Moratuwa University with BSc Eng (Hons), 2:2 in Civil Engineering, in 1998. At the same university, I obtained an MPhil (Passive Techniques for Energy Efficiency of Buildings in Sri Lanka) in 2002.
I began residence in the UK in 2007, the second part of my life. In 2009, my MSc in Education for Sustainability (EfS) with Distinction from London South Bank University (LSBU) gave me exposure to the field of education. In 2013, I obtained an MSc in Sustainability, Environment, and Change from Kingston University.
English is the passion of my life. In 1992, I attained Grade B of the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE). In 2011, the Pre-Sessional English Language Course at Kingston University granted me an overall course mark of 72% (IELTS comparability 7.5). In 2023, I participated in the course Introduction to Proofreading,offered by Alison.
Over the past 30 years, I have practised 10 types of storytelling, mostly on sustainability. But science, engineering and research have come to play with storytelling along with some non-scientific topics.
My storytelling can be divided into two:
- Storytelling in Sri Lanka
- Storytelling in the UK (from 2007)
Storytelling in Sri Lanka
First, storytelling in Sri Lanka:
- Knowledge-based storytelling
- Storytelling as a book
- Storytelling in corporate magazines
- Storytelling based on quotations
- Storytelling based on poetry
- Storytelling based on painting
From 1997 to 2007 as a freelance writer, I published over 50 press articles in the National Press in Sri Lanka on science (including engineering, sustainability and research) with academics of Moratuwa University and professionals in the engineering sector as resource persons. Some of them are knowledge-based stories. These articles were based on research publications, interviews, public lectures and conferences. For example, Concrete and steel: an ideal marriage? The structural engineer and the computer and Brickwork building with earthquake resistance were published under structures in Sri Lanka in this period. As a result, in 1997 and 2000, I received two special honoraria from the Society of Structural Engineers Sri Lanka (SSE-SL) for promoting Structural Engineering in the national press
Meanwhile, during this period, Lessons Mother Nature wanted us to learn and “An interview with Beira Lake” (in Colombo) were among the non-scientific stories that were published in the national press in Sri Lanka, amounting to 90 (https://issuu.com/aij3/docs/portfolio-press-general).
Storytelling as a book
Soon after my graduation in engineering, I worked as a Research Assistant at the Department of Civil Engineering, Moratuwa University on a project on Understanding Structural Behaviour. As an outcome of this project, I internally published a book, Structures EXPOSED, No Maths OF COURSE! which is still available at the library at Moratuwa University (http://www.opac.lib.mrt.ac.lk/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=72349).
Storytelling in magazines
In 2002 at Holcim (Lanka) Ltd, I had the challenge of keeping the internal and external stakeholders together, around the vision and mission of the company. Storytelling in this corporate context was the answer. First, the internal magazine with 16 pages made me start and it expanded further. Then, the external magazine began. By the end of 2007, four corporate publications were published, producing (article ideas, planning, collating material, writing, editing, layout, proofreading and co-ordinating) 38 issues. An example is https://issuu.com/aij3/docs/hll-voice-nl.
Storytelling based on quotations
I linked storytelling and quotations in the Mind Mirror column in The Observer, an evening newspaper in Sri Lanka. As a columnist, I published nearly 40 installments of quotation-based pieces in 2001 and 2002. For this, the quotations were selected under a topic. Then, the quote masters were in conversation in the present tense, telling a story https://issuu.com/aij3/docs/portfolio-press-column.
Storytelling based on poetry
My career as a freelance writer started in 1993 as a poet. By 2007, over 100 poems were published in the national press in Sri Lanka and some were stories.
Storytelling based on painting
When I was in Year 7 in 1984, I won the first prize in Art, or painting, at Royal College, Colombo. That is the unofficial beginning of my long storytelling journey which is now nearly 40 years.
Storytelling in the UK
Second, storytelling in the UK (from 2007):
- Research-based storytelling (for the general public) as the Café model
- Storytelling inspired by the blogging
- Storytelling on nature, aliens and the future
- Storytelling based on online poetry
Research-based storytelling (for the general public) as the Café model
Important research findings in sustainability are published these days but the general public is not reading the results. The other researchers would read it though.
The Café model is used as storytelling, i.e., telling the story in research to the general public with simplicity in a café, reading the Café magazine while sipping coffee.
With the Schumacher Institute in Bristol, I launched with Dr Jenneth Parker (Research Director) the Café SYSTEM CHANGE Research magazine in May 2018, communicating research of the System Change Journal to the general public in a simplified way. Unfortunately, on 14 August 2018, I suffered a stroke. However, in 2019, I published the second issue while recovering from the stroke. Both magazines can be downloaded from https://www.schumacherinstitute.org.uk/cafe-system-change/.
In 2019, while recovering from the stroke, I published a trial issue of the Sustainability Research Café magazine of the London RCE on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), centred at London South Bank University (LSBU) https://londonrcenews.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/mag-lsbu-190613.pdf.
Unfortunately, the two magazines were terminated due to the covid outbreak in 2020.
Storytelling inspired by the blogging
With the first lockdown of coronavirus beginning in March 2020, I started the Sustain blog on WordPress.com, sharing posts on climate change, coronavirus and sustainability. It has 105 posts now (https://sustain-blog.com). Some of the blog posts are stories that I created.
With the Sustain blog on WordPress, I used the principles of SEO and Digital Analytics in my blog posts. The title and therefore the URL tell what this post is about. The main tags (i.e., climate change, coronavirus and sustainability) and the other tags, including external links (e.g., DfE), are used as necessary. The categories are selected as blogs, events and guest posts. The resulting numbers will come as page views, likes and comments. For example, the blog post “What are the causes of climate change?” has 128 views, 25 likes and 11 comments.
Storytelling on nature, aliens and the future
On LinkedIn, over 100 articles were published and some were stories. The three angles of storytelling that are not visible in the present but will have a strong point in terms of a sustainable future are nature, aliens, and the future (https://sustain-blog.com/2023/01/13/storytelling-and-sustainability-we-need-more-stories-to-address-the-climate-crisis/):
- The interviews with Mother Nature: I happen to interview Mother Nature, who usually places the blame for the climate crisis on the human world. In the end, the alarm of my clock goes off and I wake up. Mother Nature is nowhere to be seen. The two interviews that I conducted were in 2020 and 2021.
- The alien letters: Heading a small research team, Chlorophyll Green, an invisible alien from Planet Naturus, is writing to the Secretary-General of the UN on the climate crisis. I started the alien letter on 1 January 2016 and continued it until 2022, completing 6 letters.
- Lord Future: While walking past the House of Lords, Big Ben strikes noon and I get lost in a time tunnel. When I open my eyes, I meet Lord Future. Only one story appeared in 2016.
Storytelling based on online poetry
Starting poetry again but this time online made my storytelling even more attractive to the reader. An example is “Leave foolish humanity alone” https://supoetry.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/leave-foolish-humanity-alone/.
What supported me in storytelling
What supported me in storytelling is research, the London RCE work and social media.
Research: Storytelling is influenced by the research of the degrees that I conferred from time to time. As a co-author, my MPhil on energy-efficient buildings directed me with co-authors to 7 academic publications, including two in the international journal Energy for Sustainable Development. In 2002, I was awarded as a co-author Professor EOE Pereira Memorial Award for the Best Paper presented at the Annual Sessions 2001 at the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL).
The London RCE work: The 14 years as a volunteer as a Management Group Member and Communications Officer at the London RCE (Regional Centre of Expertise) on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development), which is acknowledged by UN University, proved a storytelling drive with its newsletter and the website.
Social media: Proficient with the current social media landscape, I have been active on Twitter and LinkedIn. On Twitter, I have 3400 followers. Over 100 articles appeared on LinkedIn.
On Twitter, in 2021, my name appeared in 8th place of 50 in Environmental Sustainability in the report of Onalytica (page 11) as an influencer; in the same report, my quote appeared on page 51 (https://onalytica.com/blog/posts/environmental-sustainability-perception-impact/)
A request from a sustainability storyteller
In summary, I am a sustainability-oriented BSc Eng graduate with a background in Education for Sustainability. I see myself as one of Eastern thought with Western education.
In the last three decades (nearly four), I have published poems, articles, blogs, stories, columns, research papers, a book, magazines, newsletters and websites and drawn paintings.
In terms of disability, I am improving after suffering a stroke on 14 August 2018. I can walk without any aid; can manage stairs, lifts, escalators and slopes; and am fairly good at speech therapy. I can travel on my own by public transport.
Thank you for reading my post this far. If you are inspired by my storytelling of ten types of sustainability and would like to contact me, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to become a Freelance Sustainability Storyteller to battle the climate crisis now and in the future.
Hi Mr Jayawardena, This is a short note from me as I’m on a brief work from work. I’m writing to say that I just read your interesting blog on your story of being a storyteller for sustainability. I admire your efforts and look forward to delving into your various interesting blog stories. I would like to share my journey in trying to reduce my environmental including carbon footprint. I do not feel very technologically savvy but am gradually using social media more to share my experience. Through my stories I hope to invite feedback like suggestions from others how I can improve my efforts, invite others to share their sustainable journey stories, and would be great if through all this others would learn and be inspired to reduce their environmental footprint. I’m very interested to hear what you think about my idea. I’m sorry to hear that you suffered a stroke. This must have brought various challenges and difficulties in your life. I wish you all the best in your continuing recovery from the stroke.
Best regards and thanks for your sustainability efforts,Catherine Camilleri
Thank you, Ms Catherine for this wonderful comment. The way you are doing through social media is excellent. Keep up the good work! Moreover, I keep on improving from the stroke that I had in 2018. That is life! Thank you, again 🙏🌍😊