Goal 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production

A Match Made In Heaven: Meet The Brains Behind 'A Good Thing'

Cathy Benwell, the Co-Founder and CEO of 'A Good Thing', shares her take on the sharing economy and  about how the app is tackling waste 

By Jessica Jurkschat
9 November 2022

A Good Thing isn't your usual matchmaking app. It links businesses with local charities so they can send less to landfills and more to incredible causes. Cathy and her husband, Richard, always had the idea of the app, but never the time to create it. During the pandemic, the two made the most out of lockdowns, dedicating their new free time to getting the app up and running. And now, the rest is history!

From stationary to laptops to leftover paint and gardening supplies, the app is dedicated to finding a second life for things that would otherwise be tossed in the bin. Like they say, "One man's junk is another man's treasure."

We spoke with Cathy to find out more about A Good Thing, and its role in bringing businesses and charities together. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us about A Good Thing - how did the idea come about, and what was the inspiration behind the platform?

My husband (and co-founder) and I first had the idea for A Good Thing many, many years ago… but it took some time for us to be able to make it happen! We were both working and had three young children, so life was busy. But the idea was always there, and we kept circling back to it in quiet moments. Then, in March 2020, the pandemic began: we suddenly had some time on our hands – at least in the evenings and at the weekends. So we decided to make it happen.

How does A Good Thing work?

A Good Thing is a matchmaking app. Think eBay or Airbnb. We link up brilliant local charities with businesses that have things to give away. It’s super, super simple! And it’s also a win-win. Charities love it and are able to access things they would not usually be able to afford. Businesses love it too, as they can feel great about doing something for their local communities and can share that positive story with their stakeholders. They avoid landfills, helping to achieve their sustainability goals, and saving money on the cost of having things removed or dumped.

Who uses the app?

Charities and businesses of absolutely every sort across the whole of the UK are using the app: large charities, tiny ones, businesses based in offices, businesses based in retail premises, sole traders working from home… Usually, there is just one user of the app within each organisation: within a business, this might be a site manager or office manager-type role. Within a charity, it could honestly be anyone.

What kind of things can be donated through A Good Thing?

Absolutely anything! We are asked that question a lot, but it’s so exciting to be able to say that there really are no limits. We have been offered things in the past and have initially felt doubtful about whether or not they will be wanted by charities, but we have learned that almost everything is wanted by someone in the end. It’s actually really inspiring. That phrase about “one man’s junk” could not be more fitting.

Over the summer, we had weird and wonderful items donated, including hundreds of bamboo poles plus some half-empty cans of wall paint. These all found a new home! We have also had toiletries donated: these were gratefully received by charities working with vulnerable women and survivors of domestic abuse. We have had greetings cards donated: these went to a wonderful charity running a project to support women in prison. We have had craft items donated to a charity working with disabled children and gardening supplies donated to a charity building a community garden for adults with mental health challenges.

Of course, we also welcome more ‘regular’ donations – things like furniture, stationery, surplus products and tech (like laptops, phones, etc).

How is A Good Thing bringing businesses and charities together?

A Good Thing is making powerful links between businesses and charities - even before a match is made. Most people don’t realise how many thousands of charities there are within just a few miles of where they live or work. We’re building awareness of how many charities there are out there, and of the great work so many of them are doing. We have heard lovely anecdotal stories of connections made between businesses and charities: a charity will arrive at a business’ premises to collect an item, and the two people will get into a great conversation about the work of the charity, and how volunteers from the business might get involved. We also know that businesses form relationships with charities after having donated to them, and will then be keen to support them again in the future. Maybe those businesses will even donate items to those charities again when the opportunity comes up. The pandemic made so many of us feel so much more connected to our local communities than we ever had before: there couldn’t be a better time to be taking advantage of that, and building those strong links between businesses and the charities that are their neighbours.

How does A Good Thing contribute to the sharing economy?

A Good Thing is all about avoiding items going into landfill. People talk about ‘throwing things away’, but we believe that there is no such thing as ‘away’. Almost everything can go on and have another life in a new home if we take the time to put a tiny bit of thought into it.

What is one of the biggest obstacles to the sharing economy?

Time. We speak with many businesses, and they all tell us that they would love to send less to landfills. They say they just don’t have the time it would take to look for a proper home for things. A skip or the local rubbish dump ends up being the fastest option in many cases - or at least this is what has happened historically. I think things are beginning to change now! And A Good Thing aims to make it as fast and efficient as possible to find new homes for things.

What are the advantages of being part of the sharing economy?

By being part of the sharing economy, we’re fighting the destruction of our planet in a very powerful way. We are working to combat climate change and are working to make our communities more sustainable. But of course, we’re also saving huge amounts of money (mainly for charities) – and this is crucial in the midst of the UK’s cost-of-living crisis. Through the sharing economy, charities are gaining items they would otherwise have had to pay for and are hence able to spend more of their valuable resources on delivering the wonderful work they’re there to deliver.

Do you see the sharing economy infiltrating other industries in the future?

Yes! I would love to see everyone everywhere engaged in the sharing economy. Events are a big one, and we have our sights set on them. We know that they can be very resource-heavy, and rather wasteful sometimes. It would be wonderful to build the practices behind the sharing economy into the event industry.

As one of the founders, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since the app was launched? Have you faced any challenges as a female entrepreneur?
We learned pretty quickly that (generally) large companies are still not making sustainability a business priority. Many of them love the idea of A Good Thing, but they aren’t taking much action. We have found that small businesses tend to engage with us more, and that interest in sustainability is still often led by individuals – there is rarely an organisation-wide approach. Individual enthusiasm is obviously brilliant, but we would love to get to a place where there is more organisation-level input into thinking about some of these vitally important issues. This is where a group like the brilliant B Lab comes in: B Corps are a great route for businesses to put in place systematic prioritisation of issues that relate to sustainability.

Having said all that, the other thing we learned was how important sustainability was to many of the charities and businesses we were working with: we set up A Good Thing with a central mission to help and benefit charities, and to connect businesses and charities within local communities. But we soon realised we needed to shift our focus towards sustainability, once we saw that individuals within businesses really cared about reducing their impact and cutting down on waste. We soon realised the problem of waste within businesses was even greater than we had originally thought: the examples of waste that were being shared with us were even more horrifying and more widespread than we had expected. In addition, some industries - events being one notable example – were especially bad. Some of the stories of waste generated at festivals will sadly stay with me for a long time.

I don’t feel that any of our challenges have been related to my being female. And indeed, I have come to believe that some of these topics are actually ideal for women to take the lead on – there is a real opportunity here for women to come into the space and innovate.

What are you most proud of when it comes to the business?
It’s all about the stories for me – sometimes even the smallest items that have been donated will provoke the most wonderful, heartwarming stories. We had a whole load of beautiful, colourful pin badges donated – and they were matched with a fantastic charity working with disadvantaged and homeless young people. You could see straightaway how the badges were going to bring a flash of colour, light and love into someone’s day – and indeed this was the feedback we had afterwards from the charity. Another business donated a stack of gorgeous organic cotton baby blankets, which were matched with a wonderful baby bank charity working with vulnerable young mums. That story – and the stories of some of the mums who benefited from that donation – has really stayed with me.

I’m proud that after so many years of just talking about A Good Thing – my husband and I had even sketched out logos and had bought the domain name long before – we took the opportunity of the pandemic to make the organisation a reality. Life slowed down a little during that period for us (as for some others), as our weekends and evenings were suddenly quieter. I am proud of having taken the risk to get A Good Thing off the ground.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to start their own sustainable business?
There is a strong and vibrant ecosystem out there, full of interesting and passionate people trying to make a difference and working to change the course of this planet’s future. Make use of these networks and groups, and become part of them. I have found the world of sustainability to be genuinely supportive, and full of the most wonderful people with some really exciting ideas and a real desire for change. I would also recommend considering becoming a member of the brilliant organisation 1% for the Planet. We have done this, and feel very proud of being part of such a great organisation.

What do you see for the future of A Good Thing?
I hope that our future is bright! We would love to become the go-to brand for corporate giving. We plan to remain focused on the super-local, on building community within local areas, on getting businesses more deeply involved with the charities that are all around them. Most people have no idea how many hundreds and hundreds of charities there are within even just a few miles of their workplace. We would love to build a deep sense of community engagement – an engagement that definitely started to really grow during the pandemic, and is growing again now with our deepening cost-of-living crisis. We will be building a network of volunteer local champions right across the country to help us with this mission.

We will be working on going beyond the sustainability agenda – engaging with businesses and helping them to think about the whole range of areas they should be investing in. Our cost-of-living crisis has made this more timely than ever before. There is a powerful shift happening, a trend within companies towards building something that benefits more than just the shareholders – and we plan to put A Good Thing at the very centre of that future.

100% of profits from the sales of #TOGETHER products go to charities that advance the Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more here.

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