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Sustainability Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

Why sharing app Olio’s community marketing could help keep landfills empty


By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

May 10, 2023 | 8 min read

Founder Tessa Clarke tells The Drum it’s the small actions that lead to transformational change.


65% of all greenhouse gas emissions are generated as a direct result of household consumption / Olio

Originally developed as a mobile app to help people redistribute their unwanted food, Olio is now tackling all household items and waste. It is encouraging users to sell, share, lend and give away their pre-loved items is a move that's not only better for the planet, but for their well-being too, founder Tessa Clarke tells The Drum.

The issue of household consumption is “the big secret no one is talking about,” she says. “We’re collectively living in a space of despair. The climate crisis feels overwhelming and depressing and I think we all feel powerless. But we don’t realise the enormous role we have to play.”

65% of all Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are generated as a direct result of household consumption, as Clarke explains: “That’s 28m households in the UK. If all of us took small actions, collectively it leads to transformational change.”

But having cemented a faithful audience of seven million users, Olio is now introducing new functionality which allows its users to sell non-food items they’re unable to give away for free on the app – the For Sale section is in addition to Olio’s ‘Free, Borrow and Wanted’ nodes.

“In the beginning, we were very much focussed on solving a problem people weren’t aware existed. Now we’re moving into a new era which is about hope and solutions,” Clarke explains. “But the issue of waste doesn’t end at the food in our homes, a far greater issue is the waste of things in our homes – either that we’re throwing away, or that are sitting under beds or in cupboards covered in dust.”

Having facilitated the sharing of over 100m portions of food and 9m household items, Clarke says Olio has had an environmental impact equivalent to taking 431m car miles off the road. Now Olio’s messaging is all around local sharing, she says. “We’re focused on sustainability and preloved items only.”

“You can sell them if you like, but our main goal is to keep them away from landfill. In particular, in light of the cost of living crisis, we recognise that more and more people want to be able to sell their items to neighbours rather than just give them away.”

In an uncommon move for a brand founded on driving sustainable behaviour change, Clarke says the environmental aspect of Olio’s service is now secondary to its emphasis on the personal benefits of community-driven action. “Being connected to our local communities taps into something profoundly human and the environmental benefit is very clear. We are saving emissions and reducing resource depletion, but just as powerful is the social benefit.

“In earlier versions, the motivational hierarchy lead with climate, but the more we talked to people the more we realised that community and climate needed to be flipped. Millions of people are in survival mode right now and that makes it extremely difficult to think about anything so esoteric as saving the world. But if you couch it in personal terms, and show people how it’s going to make their lives better then it becomes the best way to galvanise people to take action.”

Clarke says off the back of the changes, “40% of our community say they have made friends through the app, 66% say sharing has improved their mental health and 75% say sharing has improved their financial wellbeing.”

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It has also launched a new visual identity, that moves away from the traditional green and blue signifiers of a sustainable brand and instead employs warmer colours to reflect the optimistic messaging, Clarke says.


She also tells The Drum that Olio worked with London-based design agency, Wholegrain which helps businesses build carbon-light websites to ensure sustainability across the app’s digital platform.

Olio is also keeping its marketing strategy as streamlined as possible. 60% of new sign-ups come to Olio through word of mouth, Clarke says. An advantage it has optimized through its ambassador programme, which Clarke says it’s now busy equipping with “the new language, new field and marketing materials. We put them on a digital lifecycle where we send emails and communications to spread the word throughout their digital networks. We also enable them to order hyperlocal marketing kits so they can distribute posters and flyers within their local communities.”

Following insights by Unilever that for 78% of people influencers are most likely to encourage them to pick up a sustainable behaviour, Clarke says that Olio has experimented with influencer campaigns, “but we’re very clear it has to be extremely authentic and so tend to focus on micro-influencers and those whose opinions of the platform are very authentically held.”

She adds that working with Olio’s retail partners including Tesco and Iceland also helps “drive the virality and word of mouth,” as well as co-marketing opportunities for the brand.

Its recent ad, ‘Wonderful World’ also secured additional media spend from Sky as part of its Zero Footprint Fund, which invests £4m in advertising support for sustainable brands.

“We’re moving onto a marketing and communications message that solutions are uplifting and optimistic as well as simple, convenient and fun to use,” concludes Clarke. “At the heart of our rebrand is the continued imperative to drive behavioural change as quickly as possible by making sustainable alternatives seem attractive.”

Want to learn more about the most important issue of our time? Senior reporter Ellen Ormesher will explore the role advertising and marketing play in facilitating the climate crisis. Case studies, tips, interviews and more. Register your interest here.

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