Away from the hubbub


After eight years as CEO at environmental change charity Hubbub, founder Trewin Restorick has stood down from the disruptive campaign organisation that inspired innovative and fun concepts around sustainability. So, what’s next on his agenda? Ian Farrell finds out. 

Trewin Restorick has quite a history when it comes to environmental enterprises. Before founding the charity Hubbub in 2014, he had launched successful ventures, including Paper Round, a flourishing recycling business, and environmental charity Global Action Plan.

These enterprises were built on his experience at Friends of the Earth and Plymouth City Council, where he supported the creation of new social enterprises. 

With Hubbub, Restorick brought together a team of creatives and tasked them to come up with campaigns that inspired positive environmental change. By collaborating with other organisations, Hubbub’s aim was ‘disrupt the status quo to raise awareness, nudge behaviours, and shape systems’. The approach has always been playful and focused on everyday issues that matter to people.

Starting out with just £25,000, the charity blossomed in its eight years under Restorick, generating numerous headlines and awards with its campaigns and initiatives.

It has partnered with thousands of other organisations, including local authorities, businesses and academics, to address issues that range from mobile phone and coffee cup reuse to food-waste reduction and community fridges. Despite this success – or maybe because of it – Restorick now feels the time has come to move on from Hubbub. He spoke to Circular about his next steps.

Circular (C): Do you feel you achieved what you set out to with Hubbub? 

Trewin Restorick (TR): I think we achieved way more than I expected. Our aim was to take environmental messages to a mainstream audience and talk about subjects they were passionate about: food, housing, clothing and community spaces. I think we really succeeded at this. 

We also wanted to collaborate with big corporates and help them take a fresh look at how things are done. It was a broad concept; we had no idea whether companies would be interested in partnering with us, or even whether our ideas were valid. It was a struggle to start with – we had hardly any money. But when I left, we’d built up to a turnover of around £8m. 

The only area where I was really disappointed was that we never really cracked the fashion industry – how to make it more sustainable

One corporate partnership that particularly stands out for me was our link with Starbucks. It introduced a 5p charge on its disposable cups across all stores and donated that to Hubbub, so we could run campaigns. That generated a considerable amount of funding. 

The only area where I was really disappointed was that we never really cracked the fashion industry – how to make it more sustainable. It has such huge systemic issues, particularly around fast fashion, so it’s quite hard to run campaigns like that with them.

I’ve noticed people copying stuff that Hubbub has done, and copying the approach – using more playful, colourful, positive communications. When you see something that you have tried and proved works, and then other people copy it, that’s great – it’s what environmental groups and small charities should do. They should be about impact, and not care if people take the ideas, because that’s how you get scale.

C: What are your personal highlights?

TR: A campaign that had a lot of impact was the Community Fridge Network. There are now more than 300 community fridges, taking perishable food and making it freely available to local communities. When we started that, with Sainsbury’s, many people were saying ‘that won’t work, people will abuse the system’. But they have just worked amazingly well. Seeing that grow has been great, and now the Co-op is the major backer of the expansion of the network. 

The funniest activity was the Ballot Bin, which we started near Charing Cross station in London. We spent a lot of time watching what people were doing in terms of littering, and found lots of cigarette butts, left mainly by drunk men.

The waste industry, along with a lot of the environmental groups, has its own language that nobody else understands, and it’s unhelpful

So, we came up with the voting cigarette bin – a customisable ashtray that displays a question and two possible answers, and has transparent sections where people drop in butts to ‘vote’. 

I also loved the plastic fishing boat, Poly-Mer, taking kids plastics fishing to tell the story of the circular economy. We collected discarded plastic and turned it into a 99 per cent recycled punt. We then cast off in Docklands with an electric engine, taking young people plastics fishing. It felt like a really important story – that plastic in the environment is shocking, but it can also be an amazing product if recycled.

C: Why did you decide to leave Hubbub? 

TR: After eight years, I was starting to see the same things come around again – and if an organisation is about innovation, that’s not really healthy. Running an organisation of 50 was also more than I’d originally intended. I’m not very good at running organisations, I’ve decided, belatedly! There’s a great team at Hubbub, and it’s got bags of money in the bank, so I thought why not leave when things are going well.

C: What are your plans now?

TR: I have set up a community interest company called Sizzle. Hubbub was all about behaviour change, and that’s fine for a certain percentage of the population. But I’ve realised that the majority of people won’t switch to a greener alternative if what they are buying isn’t convenient, cheap and of good quality.

From there, the rather bold question is ‘can one work with organisations to change what they provide, in terms of services and products, so that it becomes the norm to be greener?’ I’m not sure exactly how that will look at the moment, but I’m talking to lots of people and we’re discussing some ideas.

I have also decided to offer pro bono support to sustainability organisations from communities that are not represented in the green debate. I’m currently working with three organisations, to help them become more impactful.

My third aim is just to be a bit freer to give my views on issues. When you run an organisation, you sometimes have to bite your tongue, but when it’s a lot smaller, you don’t have to so much.

C: What challenges do you think the waste industry faces as it goes forward? Are there any ‘uncomfortable truths’ it needs to hear?

TR: Yes – there are four actually. The first is how to move the conversation into reduction and reuse. The industry is still fixated on recycling; that’s how it makes money and that’s where the commercial opportunity lies. But if we’re going to a world beyond waste, we have to reduce consumption in the first instance, and reuse as much as we can. That’s a very different model for the waste industry to work around – it’s a different set of priorities and a different set of indicators of success.

Linked to that, the circular economy is a massive challenge for the industry because, again, it’s a different operational model and requires a lot of discussions with people outside of the sector.

Transparency is another challenge: the industry really has to sort itself out in terms of the story of what happens to waste

Transparency is another challenge: the industry really has to sort itself out in terms of the story of what happens to waste. It’s constantly getting picked apart by Greenpeace and others for plastics found in Turkey, in the Pacific ocean, and so on. The same is true of fashion, with clothes meant for reuse or recycling being dumped in all sorts of places. It just undermines the credibility of the recycling and reuse message.

The industry also needs to be more collaborative. If you’re looking at packaging, for instance, you need to talk to people at the design stage, so you don’t get the ridiculous situation where you have four types of materials – none of which can be recycled – in a piece of packaging. The industry needs to get into the design debate a lot more, so that everything flows through the system more clearly.

C: How important is behavioural change in moving to a circular economy? How can the industry engage people?

TR: The first thing is to not talk about it as a ‘circular economy’. The public know what the circular economy is, and I don’t think they really care. The waste industry, along with a lot of the environmental groups, has its own language that nobody else understands, and it’s unhelpful. Whatever the solution is, it has to be convenient, cost-effective and understandable, and fit within lifestyle patterns. The first stage is to get those things in place and then bring people with you, otherwise you’re always just trying to engage the five or 10 per cent who already get it.

C: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your time in the waste and resources sector so far?

TR: Three things. The first is to start from the consumer or citizen’s perspective. I’ve seen so many solutions put in place that are not done from a consumer perspective. A great example is a project with McDonald’s in Bournemouth, where we flew drones over the beach to find out what was being littered and where. Lots of stuff was being dropped really close to those large belly bins that automatically let the council know when it’s full. That’s great for the local authority, but the bin lids were so high up and heavy that kids and older people couldn’t lift them. You have to start with the consumer – if they can’t use it, they won’t.

The second lesson is to be a bit braver, bolder and disruptive in communications and activities, because the industry tends to hide away in the background.

The third is the importance of collaboration. The waste industry needs to engage with retailers, manufacturers, and consumer groups. Some bits of it are quite good at that, but it does need to do it more.

This interview first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2022 issue of Circular.

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