Rewriting Stories: Lessons from the Lorax (Part 1)


Several years ago, I landed tickets to a play in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It was around Earth Day, something foreign to me at the time.  It turned out to be a magical night.

In honour of what would have been Theodor Geisel’s 107th birthday this month, I cracked open what is now one of my favourite books, the story on which the play was based.  The author is best known for tales of green eggs and cats in hats.  But one of Dr. Seuss’ lesser known treasures, The Lorax, is celebrating its own birthday this year: the big 4-O!

The Story

In 1971, Seuss was clever.  He weaved ethical themes into his stories.  In the Lorax, the moral compass “speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues”, sharing insights into the connections between production, consumption, and nature.  Although our economies are essential, Seuss whispered a warning.

As the story goes, a ruined business character (the Once-ler) reflects back to an earlier time when he started cutting down trees to create “thneeds”, things that everyone needs.  Watching production grow, a forest creature (the Lorax) was quick to note the impacts: destroying habitat for critters, polluting air for birds, degrading water for fish.

Despite warnings, the Once-ler just wanted to “bigger” his factory, roads, and wagons to grow his business.  With a “sickening smack”, the last tree fell.

The Shift

During the Halifax production on Earth Day, a fabulous group of community actors brought this colourful story to life.  I was a business grad at the time, keen on making a good living, living the good life.  With the Atlantic Ocean literally in my backyard, I started to take an interest in environmental stuff, but made no major shifts.  In some way, I like to think this little story contributed to a tipping point.

Soon after, I began to rewrite my own story.  I went back to school to learn how economic and policy decisions impact the environment, particularly water.  At the time, only a few businesses were starting to measure and reduce their corporate water footprint, going beyond words.

More companies have since engaged, not only to minimize water-related risks in their operations and supply chains, but also because they know consumers will demand it.  A water footprint network has even inspired collaboration among organizations, and another initiative involved in creating a footprinting database was announced earlier this month.   Businesses are shifting how they use water.

If we want to see real change in business, it will be important to recognize and reward those making genuine progress, and nudge others to flow in the same direction.   We must envision how companies and other institutions — with water guzzling and polluting records now — can change, and demand it of them.   We also need to explore how we, as consumers, can take action and shift our consumption.  Step by step, baby shifts.

How can we best encourage a new production and consumption ethic around water?  Is our Once-ler economy the problem or a vital part of the solution?  Are baby steps enough or do we need to completely rewrite the story of how we use water?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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5 Responses to “Rewriting Stories: Lessons from the Lorax (Part 1)”

  1. David Boyd March 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Great post Korice!
    I’ve used The Lorax in teaching grad students about environmental law and policy. It is an amazingly comprehensive and timeless story. Three cheers for Theodor Geisel!

  2. Korice Moir March 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks, David!

    When I was digging around to learn more about the Lorax, I came across quite a few cool resources for teachers. For those interested in trying some out, the Seussville links below have lots of activity ideas and resources for both the young, and the young at heart!

    The Lorax Project (Gr 1-6):
    (watch volume – the forest critters are doing their thing)

    The Lorax Project in the Classroom (Gr 7-12+):

  3. Julia March 16, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Lovely use of the Lorax as an analogy, I like the unusual approach to water but a familiar use of story telling to explain a moral and ethical value. Thank you for posting the links to the Lorax Project, I get calls from teachers looking for material all the time.

  4. M. Messina March 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    The Lorax was one of my favorite Seuss books as a kid and still is. I wonder if Seuss knew 40 years ago how pertinent his story of the Lorax would be in today’s society?
    The thing I loved about Seuss is that he always integrated a lesson or moral into his stories, as with most children’s books, but his were not your generic “be a good friend” and “use your manners” lesson. They were always so much more involved but made it so that even children (and parents) could grasp it together and instigate conversation about important issues. As another example the Sneetches touches on discrimination, materialism and mega-corps that simply “feed the need” of supply and demand and how we sometimes unwittingly let them. Poor star-bellied and non-star bellied Sneetches!
    I love how you’ve used The Lorax as a tool and a mentor of sorts! Congratulations on all that you’ve done and thank-you for reviving an old (book) friend and teacher of mine.


  1. Rewriting Stories: Lessons from the Lorax (Part 2) | Our Living Water - March 16, 2011

    […] For Part 1, please click here. […]

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