Why stories and collaboration are essential for behaviour change

Hubbub co-founder Trewin Restorick shares lessons on behaviour change campaigns learnt and implemented through the organisation's Square Mile Challenge to reduce coffee cup waste in central London.

Why stories and collaboration are essential for behaviour change
How can you persuade Londoners to recycle 500,000 disposable coffee cups in a month? Busy commuters face many distractions. There is the hustle and bustle of the journey and the bombardment of messages from all directions. Trying to attract attention is challenging.

The response from Hubbub was to create a challenge for the month. The Square Mile Challenge was the basis around which we could build a story. It provided a great narrative hook and gave us a beginning, middle and end around which all communications could be built. 

We initially announced the challenge in January as we needed major employers within the City to sign-up to the campaign ensuring that extensive recycling facilities were in place. We were surprised at the level of interest that this announcement created securing widespread media. It gave the campaign the kick-start required.

The next challenge was to ensure that all partners within the campaign were comfortable with the key messages and willing to use the common marketing and communication materials we developed. This may sound obvious but securing consensus amongst competing retailers with their different brands took time and extensive negotiation.

We knew that we had to make the launch campaign highly impactful and this was done in a number of ways. An interactive display was created consisting of a large transparent box containing the skyline of London made from coffee cups. Placed in a prominent position this attracted the attention of commuters and media. A choir was recruited to sing coffee themed songs at Liverpool Street Station and a video (which now has 150,000 views on YouTube) filmed for sharing via all forms of social media. This content on social media was reinforced with other videos, an infographic and consistent use of the hashtag #SquareMileChallenge. A media release of the launch attracted the attention of BBC Breakfast and BBC London.  

Seven large colourful recycling bins were placed in prominent places around the city. We knew from our previous trial in Manchester that these were not a long-term solution as the cups collected in them have a high level of contamination, they attract litter and they did not fit with the City of London’s strategy to de-clutter public areas. However, they were essential in raising the profile of the #SquareMileChallenge, providing a highly visual reminder that the campaign had started.

The launch was able to point people to a large number of recycling points. These included the involvement of nearly 40 of the area’s biggest employers who put recycling points in their offices. These recycling facilities collected most of the cups during the month. Most of the high street retailers put collection points in their outlets and agreed to recycle any cup from these points regardless where they had been purchased. Further collection points were on the dustcarts of street cleaners and at Liverpool Street station.

London’s workers urged to recycle 5m coffee cups in 2017 through Square Mile Challenge
Bright yellow bins were placed throughout the City of London to highlight the campaign
This mass of collection points was essential as it made it easy for people to participate. It could only happen through collaboration from companies committed to the overall vision and story. Throughout the month of the campaign we constantly kept people informed of progress keeping the story live and drawing attention to the recycling facilities through social media.

Initial indications are that the campaign has succeeded. Our recycling partners have indicated that the target of 500,000 cups has been exceeded – although we are still waiting on final verification through weighing the cups. The story structure has certainly been successful in raising profile generating over 200 pieces of media coverage. 

Hubbub will now be creating a ‘How to Guide’ detailing key lessons and outlining how other cities can replicate the campaign. We know that the ‘Challenge’ storyline is essential to attract attention and that collaboration is essential to ensure recycling facilities are in place to make it easy for people to act.