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Rob Greenland: How To Build A Movement


Our aim at Zero Waste Leeds is to build a movement. What exactly do we mean by that? In summary, for us it’s largely about engaging with people from across Leeds who want to play a part in us moving towards becoming a zero-waste city.

It’s about people joining in, getting involved, teaming up with others. Our role is to help things to happen, to join dots, to share our platform. We’ll take the lead on things where needed – but, like with our recently launched school uniform project – success will come from lots of people joining up with others and doing things themselves.

We’ll help. We’ll support. We’ll cheerlead. And we’ll join the dots. But this is about all of us, not just our small team at Zero Waste Leeds.


To help to explain how we work, I came up with five key principles which sit behind what we do. These are a bit of a work in progress and they evolve with each piece of work that we undertake, but I think these are about right.


It’s obvious – we talk about how we can waste less in Leeds. We’re Zero Waste Leeds after all. But the local angle really resonates with people. When we talk about recycling, we’re talking about what can go in your green bin in Leeds – not “this is mostly recyclable but check with your Local Authority before putting it in your bin.”

Similarly, when we talk of impacts of, say, plastic pollution, we’ll relate it to places people know. And places people love – local pride is an important element too. People – and I’d say (as an incomer) that this is particularly true of Yorkshire people – are proud of where they’re from. Tapping into that local pride helps us to get our messages across.


We’re no different to anyone else – at times the scale and complexity of the issues that we face leave us overwhelmed. And we know that we require big, systemic changes, as well as behaviour changes at a personal and community level.

But we are unapologetic about focusing relentlessly on positive stories, and on things that we can do – individually and, most importantly, together. We think this focus is part of what attracts people to us – around 200 new people join us on social media each month. There’s so much to do – but there are also many good stories to tell, and lots of good opportunities to get involved and make things better.

Honesty and openness matters too. Yes, everyone would say the same. But we think it’s particularly important in relation to waste – a sector which traditionally hasn’t been the most transparent.

People need to know things like what happens to their recycling – or understand the limitations of compostable packaging where infrastructure doesn’t exist to compost it. Sharing more, and being more open about the challenges we face, helps people to see this as a problem we all share – not just something that the Council, or businesses, will tackle.


We are very much about the mainstream. We’re very much into all of this, but even we find a lot of communication around environmental issues a bit dull, or too difficult to comprehend.

So we work hard to be engaging. High quality, consistent social media content. Different formats –

such as live chats on Facebook with guest speakers. Information often delivered in bite-size chunks, with a view to people sharing it with friends. This isn’t about dumbing down – but it is about finding ways to keep talking about things in ways that people will find interesting.

This matters because we work on a shoestring – and we need our followers – the movement – to share with their friends, neighbours and families. People are also more likely to trust messages that come from people they know. All of this helps us to build the movement – from nothing just over two years ago, to more than 10,000 social media followers now.


This is another key movement-building principle. This isn’t about us – our small under-resourced team at Zero Waste Leeds – doing everything. Our model is about tapping into other people’s desire to get involved – and making it as easy as possible for them to do just that.

Our uniform project is a good example of that. We’re asking: what can you do? And how can we help? Because we believe it’s much more powerful if people across Leeds are inspired to set up their own school uniform reuse schemes – rather than us trying to set one big one up ourselves.


This is a phrase we took from US football turned social justice campaigner Megan Rapinoe. We heard her talk about this at an awards ceremony last year. She was talking about the privilege she now enjoys – now that’s she’s famous. People listen to what she has to say now. And she wants to make the most of that platform – and most importantly share that platform with others who may not have the same power.

In our own way, we try to do the same. So much of what we do is about telling good stories of great things happening in our city. There are lots of individuals, communities, charities, social enterprises and businesses doing good things that can help us to waste less. A big part of our role is to share the platform we’ve got – and invite people to join us on that platform. So again, it’s not just about us – it’s about all of us.

Rob has worked in social enterprise all his life, starting out with a Fairtrade co-operative and then working in a variety of social business roles. He co-founded Social Business Brokers in 2010 – a Leeds-based social enterprise best known for their Empty Homes Doctor service – and Zero Waste Leeds, to engage people and organisations across the city in collaborative projects to reduce waste.

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