Hubbub founder Trewin Restorick: 'The issue is always bigger than the organisation'

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
Hubbub CEO and founder Trewin Restorick. Photo by Charles Milligan.

Cast your mind back to 2014. American space agency NASA makes its first successful comet landing, Germany’s football team (unsurprisingly) wins the World Cup in Rio, and humans continue to use up the planet’s limited resources.

Two of the three stories made headlines in the national media, yet global warming remained an issue stuck on the subs bench.

At the time, Trewin Restorick was head of successful environmental organisation Global Action Plan (GAP), a charity he had set up 20 years previously to tackle the harmful effects of human activity on the environment. However, he was becoming increasingly worried about what the science was saying.

“The public was just not engaged at all, or quite hostile to the news,” says Restorick. “Environmental NGOs [non-governmental organisations] were talking to just the dark greens in a negative way, the government were not in the debate and people weren’t always sure about the authenticity of what’s been said. There was lots of doom and gloom.

“The environmental world has created a language only they know about; when you present big scary problems, people just turn off. I think there’s nothing really aspirational about change, it’s always you can’t do this or that.”

In a bid to counter this, Restorick decided to take a leap of faith away from GAP and set up a new environmental charity, Hubbub, with colleagues Gavin Ellis and Heather Poore. As CEO and founder, he wanted to create an organisation that focuses on behavioural change and inspires people to make greener lifestyle choices.

He says: “The three of us got together to talk about what Hubbub would be. We wanted to make it completely different from every other environmental charity and wanted people to be inquisitive and create noise.

“We aimed to create something more ‘styley’, so that’s why we picked the topics we did: food, fashion, your home and your neighbourhood. The logo was deliberately chosen because it was very abstract and and we wanted people to get inquisitive and want to explore and know more.”

It’s quite a bold step for someone running a successful organisation to up sticks and leave, so why did he make the leap?

He says: “After 20 years, I looked at where the organisation was, and it was doing brilliantly, but it had become a consultancy, which was a long way away from what I wanted when I started. So I took a look at it and thought, everyone else is happy with it except me.”

Not content with buying a leather jacket or learning the guitar, Restorick jokes that starting up Hubbub was his version of a mid-life crisis.

He says: “I wish I’d done it earlier. We started with £25,000, which doesn’t pay for anything these days. It was a massive risk and at one point we were down to £500, so there was a point where we nearly went under. But what’s happened is that people have genuinely liked what we do.”

And Restorick had a good track record to go off, given he was trained by one of the most famous climate change experts in the world, Al Gore. He says: “I had an amazing two days with this weird cross-section of people, including Sir Alex Ferguson. They’d tried to pull together a range of people from different sectors who wanted to talk about climate in a different way and become ambassadors in the UK.

“Al Gore’s values are, ‘How do you change the world? One conversation at a time.’ He and his team continually provide access to the science and provide validity behind a lot of the things.”

And it’s this science, combined with behavioural research, that has helped influence Hubbub’s impressive tally of successful campaigns. The organisation completes one project per month, often working with local authorities and community groups to tackle environmental burdens such as littering, food waste and plastic pollution.

Positive campaigning

Nothing quite riles the Great British public like littering, and often cigarette stubs are the poster child for this anti-social behaviour. In a bid to combat this grievance, Hubbub designed Ballot Bins, where the the general public were asked a question and chose which side to put their cigarette stubs in as a result. Questions varied from “Who is the best player in the world? Ronaldo or Messi” to targetted topical or localised prompts.

The concept delivered impressive results: where the bins were installed, cigarette stub litter was reduced by 46%, according to an independent evaluation.

Ballot Bins proved so popular that other cities decided to replicate the idea. Restorick says: “Boston took our design and put it into the city, and initially we thought ‘how dare they?’ But then I thought, well, they wouldn’t have done that otherwise so perhaps it is a success.

“The issue is always bigger than the organisation so we don’t care who does it. If nobody has heard of us but we’re inspiring something, then it shouldn’t matter. But it does go against every single gut instinct.”

Special mention must also be given to the Community Fridge Network, where surplus food is collected and donated to those who need it most by people and businesses. Set up in July 2017, the project has now benefited from an extra £160,000 of National Lottery funding and it is expected that in the next three years, there will be 70 community fridges across the country.

A tale of two strands

Hubbub is split into two strands: a charity and a social enterprise. The enterprise is mainly funded by organisations such as Sainsbury’s and IKEA, which contact Hubbub to come up with a creative solution to tackle a wider issue. It helped IKEA create its sustainable lifestyle campaign, and Sainsbury’s ‘Waste Less Save More’ food waste campaign.

Other companies come to Hubbub with a specific challenge, such as coffee cup retailers and their littering woes. The sufficient surplus from this type of funding is then put into initiatives that Hubbub wishes to run but perhaps a company isn’t willing to support just yet.

Restorick says: “We found there wasn’t always other organisations to give away to, which led us to create a social enterprise, which the charity owns. Any money we make, for example by selling the Ballot Bins, goes back into the charity to fund more projects.”

Hubbub’s success in the public sphere is unquestionable, but every business venture must have had its fair share of horror stories. “Because we try to do things small-scale, you quickly learn whether it’s right or wrong – fail fast and learn cheap. We’ve had lots of projects that haven’t been successful.

For example, we spent a huge amount of money on cigarette bins from the Netherlands where, when you dropped your cigarette, it played a tune. But nobody knew what the hell they were so people just walked past them.

“Similarly, we had a talking bin that made noises when you dropped litter in. But every time it was cleaned, the wiring broke. I thought we’d be done for ‘harassment by bin’ because it was randomly wolf-whistling at people as they walked past.”

As with any campaign, no matter how great the idea, it must be able to connect with an audience. Restorick believes this is why the gift bundle proved to be so popular.

He says: “We invited mainly mothers to create gift bundles of old baby clothes packed with a note and take them to Mothercare to give them as a gift on Mother’s Day, and it helped 2,000 families. The value of the bundles was about £120 each and it was really beautiful clothing, which had the most emotional resonance but also had a social connection.”

Fast fashion is quickly becoming the new focus of Hubbub’s efforts, having run a #giveaknit campaign last month which encouraged people to reuse their novelty Christmas jumpers.

Restorick says: “The fashion industry is well behind others in recognising its environmental impact and we’re addicted to fast fashion.

"There’s no other business model for the fast-fashion chains so they just get faster and faster. We’re now trying to educate 16- to 25-year-olds about the wider impact of their clothing choice, but we need to find a business that’s really willing to embrace it.”

Hubbub’s positive and playful campaigns offer a refreshing tonic to the otherwise bleak environmental outlook often churned out across the media (RWW included).

And its thanks to people like Restorick that the public are beginning to realise everyone can do their bit towards a greener and more sustainable lifestyle. Don’t be too surprised if you hear a bin wolf-whistling on a street near you soon.

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