“We prioritise the parts of the business that have an outsized, positive effect”
How Reconome is delivering positive impact for the environment with its small team
For a team just 17 strong, tech recycling business, and certified B Corp, Reconome is having a positive impact on people and planet. A Best For The World honoree in the Environment category, Reconome is a brilliant example of how putting the work in early, and leveraging smart partnerships with larger organisations, can magnify your impact.
You can think of Reconome like a triage department for electronic devices. The business collects redundant IT and infrastructure equipment from businesses and decides how to create a positive reuse case. That could be repairing or refurbishing them in house, sending them to a partner who’s better suited for the job or, if they are unsalvageable, onto an advanced recycling partner to recover any precious materials. If the devices are reusable, Reconome works with high impact social groups including charities and schools to put them in the hands of people who need them.
Nick Rawkins set up the business in 2018 after becoming disillusioned with corporate life. To Nick, the recycling business made fundamental commercial sense. It was a two-sided marketplace that dealt with motivated customers on both sides of the equation: donors and recipients. “Socially, we live in an era where digital is becoming a fundamental human right,” Nick says. “We’re highly motivated to make this work on a large scale.” And the business is well on the way to achieve that goal.
Focusing on its supply chain from the start
Scoring highly in the Environment category is no great surprise when it’s so ingrained in Reconome’s business model. “We receive a stream of waste and we repurpose it so it becomes a product. That’s a net reduction of waste,” says Nick. For a business that often works as a middle man, building a trusted supply chain has been critical. Right from the start, the business has been incredibly intentional when choosing which recycling partners to work with.
“We spent a huge amount of resources trying not to use generic waste management services,” Nick says. With Lithium ion batteries, for example, Reconome found a company to recycle them directly rather than taking the easier route of working with a broker. Having full visibility of its supply chain is replicated when it comes to plastics and other metals too. Reconome onboard a new partner to work with every six months or so.
Having trust in its partners has allowed the business to focus on what it's good at. “You can trust their proposition resonates with what you’re trying to do,” says Nick. “Together we’re able to achieve a superior outcome.” Nick admits that early on, it was perhaps counterintuitive for a small business without that many devices to vet its supply chain so thoroughly. But it has served the business well. “We’re glad we’ve done that work because it’s work we don’t have to do now. And we have relationships we’ve managed to build and maintain over several years.”
Using partnerships to increase its impact
Central to Reconome’s outsized impact has been working with large foundations that identify people in need and do it at scale — Reconome never actually works with the end user themselves. That tactic was actually initiated fortuitously when Community Calling, a corporate and charity combination, reached out to them for help on a national scheme to generate donations of smartphones. Reconome wiped the data, refurbished, tested and shipped the phones out to different charity organisations. “We found ourselves in the midst of this project taking over quite a bit of our operational capacity and attention,’ Nick says. “The seed was planted.”
Since then, looking for partnerships with that scale of impact has become central to the business’ strategy. Dave Williams, Head of Business Development and Partnerships, researches other national scale foundations working on the same problem. To the business’ surprise, there are only “a handful” doing it. That means getting out there in person, and networking, has become increasingly important – though Nick is quick to point out there’s no guarantee. “Just because you’re networking it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the opportunities. But it has allowed us to understand their thinking and submit a good response.”
Using size as an advantage
When it comes to winning contracts, one of the things that actually works in Reconome’s favour is its size. “We’re a lot smaller than some of the other companies we’re competing against,” Nick says. “A lot more nimble, a lot more responsive. We’re very motivated to make it work, which I don’t think you’re necessarily going to always get with a large company.”
And, of course, that nimbleness extends to how they operate when they do win contracts. Rather than flexing up and down with employees, the business flexes with those partners it's spent so long building relationships with. “We’re building a network of partners and we’re relying on them when we need help with capacity,” Nick adds. That ethos extends even to the B Corp Certification process itself. The company is supported by Innovate UK, a UK government agency that helps innovative businesses commercialise their products or services. One of its initiatives is a knowledge transfer project where an innovative business (like Reconome) and a university work together. That’s led to Reconome working with a post-graduate who takes on the responsibility of leading the B Corp Certification along with a larger mandate to help the businesses Reconome partners with to take measurable steps to improve their environmental and social performance.
As the business takes on more projects, Nick admits there’ll come a time when it will need to build in more operational functions in house, and find a bigger space than the three railway arches they currently work from in Leytonstone, East London. Given the foundations and relationships the business has in place, it’s expansion the business seems perfectly set up for.
Nick’s B Corp lessons
1. Prioritise what’s most important
When it comes to making changes, Nick says it’s important to understand what really shifts the needle in terms of impact. “The decision making process has been about what part of our business has an outsized, negative effect, and what part of our business has an outsized, positive effect. And prioritising. I think the best strategy is to figure out where those outsized effects are, then to try and fix those things first and gradually work your way through everything else.”
2. Don’t just jump through the hoops
“You’re not just trying to do things for the sake of the accreditation,” Nick says. “You’re actually implementing long lasting changes in your business. Understand why that question is there. What does it represent? How can you alter a business decision or process for an improved overall impact?” He points to policies and documentation in particular. “As soon as people hear ‘policy’ it turns them off. But it’s actually about creating an easily accessible and useful repository of information that helps people do what you want them to.”
3. Allocate responsibility
As Reconome has grown, the certification process has become much more of a shared responsibility. “When we first did our B Corp Certification, we didn’t have that much business so it wasn’t that much of a burden – now everyone’s plates are full,” he says. “Allocating responsibility to multiple people in the team allows people to take charge of various aspects.”
To learn more about Reconome, head to its website.