How to Change the World by Infusing Sustainability Into All Your Agile “User Stories”

Feb 19, 2023

@Elizabethlies — Zamora, Spain


If you ask most Business Analysts or Agile experts what a template is for a ‘User Story’, they will tell you…

As a {insert user},
I want to {insert users’ want},
So I can {insert value to the user}

This is by far the most common template used, but fun fact, there is no defined template for a user story. Feel free to flex your Agile chops on your team with that information!

Definition of User Story

A ‘User Story’ is defined as the smallest unit of work in an Agile environment, but it should not be mistaken for a feature.

It’s an end goal, not a feature, expressed from the software user’s perspective.
— Atlassian

I’ve seen many different ‘User Stories’ types across multiple clients in different industries and each team treats them a little different. Some are as small as possible, while others can look like novels.

In my mind, it comes down to how best the development team and QA can handle user stories and as long as they can be sized appropriately (anything 8 story points and above is a no go…I honestly don’t even like 5 story points).

But as long as the User Story represents the smallest piece of value to the user, and follows the INVEST criteria, I’ll take it.

But, there is something really missing in Agile and in ‘User Stories’.

A ‘User Story’ Format to Change the World

I want you to become a butterfly

By Karina Vorozheeva


Well don’t be this butterfly cause it’s about to be eaten by a cat…

But I want you to create the butterfly effect.

The smallest choices you make today WILL affect someone today, someone else tomorrow, an animal in the next year, a child in a decade, and the world for generations to come.

The way you can easily start having a positive impact on the world with your ‘User Stories’ is to start using the following template:

As a {insert user},
I want to {insert users’ want},
So I can {insert value to the user},
With the impact of {insert impact on environment, social, etc.}

If you change your ‘User Stories’ in this way, you will not only identify new business requirements and help with prioritization, but you will change the world by making every single Agile team member think about the impact of their work.

Product Owners and Managers can now prioritize based on impact to the governance and transparency of their company, the environmental impact the solution will have, and even the social impacts on their company and the world.

Photo by Sergei A on Unsplash

Sometimes it may be difficult as a user story should not at first have a solution in mind, but as with some of the examples below, there can be known impacts up front, and you can always feel free to update the “impact” statement once a solution and requirements are identified.

“I have found that it is the small everyday deed of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
~ J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Now for some examples…

Examples With the New ‘User Story’ Template

Note: These “User Stories” are not how I would write actual “User Stories”, but hopefully they get the point across of how to use this format.

To highlight negative impact:

Example 1:
As Elon Musk,
I want to send a Tesla Roadster to outerspace,
So I can create buzz about Tesla,
With the impact of increased CO2 emissions due to rocket fuel combustion,
AND increased space debris.

Example 2:
As Elon Musk,
I want to invest a large amount of Tesla money in Bitcoin,
So I can promote cryptocurrency AND hopefully increase profits,
With the impact of supporting large increases in CO2 emissions due to Bitcoin mining.

Okay, I’ll stop bashing Elon here…the guy is pretty smart…I think.

Example 3:
As a data analyst,
I want to tag every element on my website,
So I’ll have access to every data point possible for future analytical decisions,
With the impact of increased data center usage which increases costs and CO2 emissions for extra energy needed to run the servers.

Example 4:
As a video producer,
I want videos to be produced in 8K quality,
So our viewers can view our content in the best quality available,
With the impact of increasing data transfers which increases CO2 emissions at data centers AND makes content hard to watch in low-bandwidth areas.

How this can be used to highlight positive impact:

Example 1:
As a content manager,
I want to remove unused images after 6 months,
So content is more manageable for content editors,
With the impact of reduced CO2 emissions and costs for our servers.

Example 2:
As a designer,
I want to reduce the amount of font types,
So the page performance will increase for users and pages will be more digestible,
With the impact of reduced CO2 emissions because of less data transfer.

Example 3:
As a form user,
I want to see multiple options for Gender,
So my gender can be accurately chosen,
With the impact of increasing equality and trust with the company.

Michael Fearer, Enterprise Design Thinking lead, Business Analyst, and Product Owner/ManagerAuthor: Michael Fearer, Enterprise Design Thinking lead, Business Analyst, and Product Owner/Manager

As a member of IBM Consulting Sustainability Services Practice, Mr. Fearer has experience helping companies design carbon calculations and create sustainability energy strategies.

He is an experienced IBM Enterprise Design Thinking lead, Business Analyst, and Product Owner/Manager where he has helped transform over a dozen Fortune 500 companies. He has extensive digital experience with a focus on digital sustainability where he recently completed one of the most detailed studies on the carbon footprint of virtual meeting software in the world.

He has been nominated for IBM’s “Innovation” Award three times and the “Dedication to Client’s Success” Award. He has an engineering and entrepreneurial background with his first startup at age 20 being accepted into an accelerator where he was featured as a top CEO to watch.

Before working at IBM, Mr. Fearer has worked at General Electric Energy, Ohio State University’s Tech Commercialization Office, and an award winning IoT startup. He holds an Honors Electrical Engineering degree with a focus in Energy from The Ohio State University.

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