The power of purpose


Trewin Restorick

Trewin Restorick, Founder of Sizzle Innovation, explains why a purpose beyond profit can act as a catalyst for sustainability projects.

In a recent webinar, I heard how global companies are putting purpose at the heart of their business strategy. The activities were impressive, motivated their teams and delivered external benefits.

Ultimately though the core purpose of these businesses is to make money and deliver shareholder value. This is completely valid, but the need to deliver financial value will invariably override a purpose-driven agenda.

This is what makes the sector in which I work different. For the voluntary sector, the purpose of the organisation should be core. The question the sector faces is how best to deliver on this purpose often with limited resources. Some choose to campaign whilst others deliver grassroots activities within their communities.

There is another route which I have placed at the heart of the organisations I have created. The purpose-driven nature of the voluntary sector can enable it to act as a catalyst bringing together a wide collaboration of organisations united in a wish to deliver a common ambition which is beyond the scope of any one of them to deliver.

These collaborations typically start with a simple question. How can we boost recycling rates on the high street? How can we best redistribute perishable food that would be wasted? How can we speed up the transition from peat in horticulture?

For the voluntary sector, the purpose of the organisation should be core.

A voluntary sector organisation can ask these questions with authenticity driven purely by a desire to achieve a positive impact rather than a requirement to deliver a financial or marketing return. This allows it to bring together unusual collaborations combining their varied expertise and resources to deliver significant results.

At Hubbub, I recognised that companies, local authorities and voluntary organisations wanted to tackle the growing amount of packaging ending up on our high streets. Recycling facilities have not kept pace with our changing life cycles.

More people are eating and drinking on the go requiring changes in the way packaging is collected for recycling. This burden has largely landed on cash-strapped local authorities who don’t have the resources or expertise to effectively deal with the problem.

Hubbub acted as a catalyst for the LeedsByExample campaign which brought together over 25 companies who provided the financial resources and expertise enabling Leeds City Council to carry out a series of measured interventions seeking to boost recycling rates and decrease contamination in the city centre. 

The collaborative approach ensured there was common and consistent messaging for the campaign. Independent research was openly shared highlighting successes and failures. The involvement of the local authority ensured there was continuity for the scheme and engagement with the voluntary sector boosted public involvement.

The LeedsByExample campaign did achieve some positive results. It undoubtedly boosted knowledge, encouraged replication in other cities and enhanced collaboration but ultimately far greater systemic change is required to create a truly sustainable way to handle packaging materials consumed on the go. Based on this experience, I realised that to have significant long-term impact collaborative projects either need to be entirely community-driven or seek to deliver systemic change.

The Community Fridge Network created by Hubbub is an example of a successful community-driven collaboration. In Northern Spain and Berlin, communities had introduced large fridges and freezers in which perishable food that would have been wasted could be placed and then freely taken by anybody.

I wanted to test the approach in the UK but was met with a wall of scepticism regarding health and safety concerns and potential abuse of the system. Working with Sainsbury’s two Community Fridges were established which overcame these concerns. 

There is growing recognition that this type of radical collaboration is essential to deliver change at the speed and scale required.

Hubbub realised that scaling the approach required a broad coalition of companies willing to donate food, community groups needed the resources to introduce fridges in the locality, additional funding was essential and common branding was needed to illustrate impact. 

As a purpose-driven organisation, Hubbub was able to pull together these pieces of the jigsaw and there is now a thriving network of Community Fridges providing people with access to free healthy food, bringing communities together and cutting food waste.

Sizzle is my new organisation where I am seeking to take the collaborative approach further by combining practical change on the ground alongside attempts to change legislation and the market.

Enrich the Earth is a collaboration of over 30 organisations aiming to hasten the transition from peat in horticulture something which environmental campaigners have been seeking to achieve for over 30 years. Our research revealed that cost-effective alternative sustainable materials are not available at a sufficient scale and that legislation is making the transition expensive.

In response, we are developing an alternative compost containing up to 30% of green waste and have consulted widely identifying five core pieces of legislation that need to change. The impact of this different approach is being independently assessed and results will be shared with the sector and funders.

There is growing recognition that this type of radical collaboration is essential to deliver change at the speed and scale required. I believe that the voluntary sector is uniquely placed to be the catalyst for this type of approach truly demonstrating the power of purpose-driven organisations.

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