What makes a sustainability leader? Meet consumer engagement champions City to Sea

With the 2021 Sustainability Leaders Awards entry deadline approaching, this new feature series showcases the achievements of the 2020 winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: The winner of our Consumer Engagement Campaign of the Year: City to Sea.

What makes a sustainability leader? Meet consumer engagement champions City to Sea

Forum for the Future's Hannah Pathak (left) and compere Julia Bradbury (right) present the City to Sea team with the Award

In the wake of Blue Planet 2, tackling plastics pollution moved up the agenda for most consumers and businesses. But despite the majority of behaviour change campaigns in this space historically having focussed on reducing litter and improving recycling, just 9% of all plastics ever produced have been successfully recycled.

City to Sea’s Refill campaign goes one step further and aims to eliminate single-use plastic altogether from the on-the-go beverage sector. It was launched in 2017 with a mission to make water bottle reuse “the new normal” in every UK town and city. From small beginnings at a select number of independent retailers and cafes, the campaign has become a national phenomenon. It has attracted the support of major chains including Costa, Starbucks, Bill’s, Leon, Fullers and Byron Burger, meaning that around 30,000 Refill stations are now listed on its digital app.

In recognition of this boom in interest and in a drive to further public engagement, City to Sea ran National Refill Day 2019 on 19 June. The one-day event provided offerings in person, on social media and via traditional media channels, attracting the support of influencers, journalists, politicians, new businesses and celebrities. Supporters included NHS England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

City to Sea said it had “an extremely limited budget” to deliver the event. But the results were impressive: 40 million people saw National Refill Day content on social media; 91 pieces of media coverage were generated; three million people saw the event’s out-of-home advertising, and Refill’s campaign video was viewed more than 90,000 times – all within a 24-hour window. Beyond views, the 24-hour period saw businesses list 1,500 more Refill stations on the app and more than 30,000 additional downloads of the app to mobiles and tablets.

The organisation surpassed every single target regarding reach and impact it set for the event, exceeding some KPIs by 300%. The campaign’s hashtag – #GotTheBottle – was also trending on Twitter UK and Ireland all day. Since the event took place, businesses including Asda, Itsu and McDonald’s UK have joined Refill and Waitrose and Partners has expressed interest.

wdie’s panel of judges was impressed by City to Sea’s ability to design communications which boost not only awareness, but action. They could clearly see results in both spaces spanning far beyond National Refill Day 2019 itself. This is largely because City to Sea targets the areas in which it can leverage the most impact – high streets and transport hubs – and seeks to overcome the key cultural and practical barriers to behaviour change.

After discovering through its own research that 71% of the UK public feel uncomfortable asking for tap water when not making a purchase, the organisation developed the app and window stickers to lift this stigma. When further research found that six in ten Brits would be more likely to carry and use a refillable water bottle if free tap water was regularly available in shops, train stations and airports, City to Sea expanded the campaign by collaborating with retail, property and transport firms to encourage investment in water fountains. Polls have found that four in ten adults in the UK were aware of Refill three months on from National Refill Day.

It’s been a tough year for the refill movement, but City to Sea is now working with NGOs including Greenpeace and BreakFreeFromPlastic to help replicate the success of Refill globally. City to Sea’s chief executive Rebecca Burgess recently took part in an exclusive video interview with edie to detail the organisation’s plans for lockdown and beyond.

What edie’s judges said: “This was a very impressive campaign, helping to shift societal norms in a way that will make the single-use plastic bottle become a thing of the past. We believe this is a campaign with real and scalable impact; we admire its plans to go global.”

Are you our next winner?

Now entering their 14th year for 2021, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are a unique opportunity to shout about the achievements you and your company have made during this challenging year. 

In a digital event on 3 February 2021, entrants will get the chance to celebrate virtually with leaders from across the sustainability, CSR and energy space. Some exciting new categories have been added for 2021 to recognise excellence across the spectrum of sustainable business. 

The 2021 Sustainability Leaders are now OPEN for entries. The entry deadline is Friday 30 October 2020, so don’t miss your chance to get the recognition you deserve. The Awards will then take place virtually on the night of Wednesday 3 February 2021.


edie Staff

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