Rebecca Burgess: Leading a Change, Impacting Lives, and Making the World a Better Place

Rebecca Burgess | CEO | City to Sea

By working together, we can shape a future where profit is balanced alongside people and planet, so all life can thrive.

These simple yet powerful words sum up her identity, her work, what it means to her, and to the world as we know it.

Rebecca Burgess. A person with a purpose. A purpose so profound, it is almost like it is etched into her subconscious, making it a second nature for her. With a strong sense of ethics, and experiences in a vast genre of fields that affect lives in its most holistic sense, bettering lives and the environment come naturally to her.

For Rebecca, the journey has been of many hats, including being a journalist, a customer service rep, a PR executive, event organizer, partnerships consultant, and the likes. Two things remained central though: People and purpose.

With age and experience, came clarity. Working in areas as diverse as cancer-care, care for homeless people, caring for the environment by reducing plastics or even helping ailing children, she holds on to her original ideas while being as committed and passionate today, as she was in her first job.

Today, Rebecca is the CEO of City to Sea, a not-for-profit organization and one of the world’s pioneers in saving the planet from single-use plastic waste. Her work, quite literally, is out there for everyone to see with single-use plastic littered everywhere.

The organization’s most awarded campaigns ha ve seen them tackling single-use plastics with a mix of practical, solutions-focused initiatives and championing for reuse over single-use. In these, they have in volved diverse stakeholders like individuals, communities, employers, and retailers while inspiring and empowering everyone and being their critic and trusted peer.

Behind every great cause lie great pains. For Rebecca’s City to Sea, that pain is funding – a constant concern. Like a committed strategist with limited resources, she has sharpened City to Sea’s presence and USPs to focus on their impacts. These include innovations like the “Refill Campaign,” the world’s first drinking water app, connecting the thirsty to a network of places ready to give them water for free. At present, besides the app going global, it has over 300K downloads and 30K businesses joining them.

Shortly, the app will be relaunched (with funding from the Volvo Visionaries Award) to guide people to places for shopping, eating, and drinking – while using much fewer plastics.

The mark of a Leader

Rebecca’s traits of awareness, trust, and determination are exemplified in collaborations with noteworthy causes like the Break Free from Plastic movement and REPEAT, a reuse task-force of industry experts, scientists, NGOs, Government officials, and retailers to reintroduce reusables back safely into business operations.

Experience has taught Rebecca that trust is a factor of time and honesty where time and being open, help repose people’s faith. “The helm can be a lonely place despite all the successes,” Rebecca expresses. “It is in these times that I draw strength from Natalie Fee, their founder, who continues to represent City to Sea on various platforms about the devastating effect that plastics have on our oceans,” she adds.

City to Sea’s senior leadership help create an open, caring, and supportive environment at work, made up predominately by women. It makes City to Sea accessible to people at large, quite unlike most businesses and corporate bodies. Incidentally, the presence of these women and their experiences lead to a campaign for ‘plastic-free periods’ where the ills of using plastic-backed menstrual products on human health as also on the environment were highlighted quite prominently.

Swimming against the tide

Rebecca states that a leadership position or the helm remains the one place which gives her an unrestrained view of what lies ahead and considers it as the best place to be in, in times of crisis. She believes that being the holder of the helm, one can plan course changes to set the business safely out of choppy waters.

With plastics being used by the tons especially by the medical fraternity, not out of choice but of necessity, and the pandemic playing havoc with social distancing, City to Sea’s hands may be full with concerns of single-use plastics, but its feet remain tied down due to frequent lockdowns and much-needed social distancing.

However, Rebecca, with assuring confidence, states that no sooner do matters improve, she will be back with a bang to try and eliminate common single-use plastics found polluting our rivers and oceans. To this end, she plans to shine the light and lead the way from single-use to reusables. And in that, all of the world ought to rally behind City to Sea.