It’s About People, Stupid!

It’s About People, Stupid!

To help focus the minds of the staff working on Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign at his office in Little Rock, Arkansas, strategist James Carville hung up a sign on the wall that contained three key campaign points.

The most famous of these was, “The Economy, Stupid!”

Today, 25 years on, the phrase ‘It’s About People, Stupid’ is probably a more appropriate and resonant slogan as public anxiety about terrorism, austerity and the erosion of communities deepens.

People, when they think about sustainability generally feel the need to talk about “saving the planet”.  It’s a big task that most people find hard to get their heads around.

For the avoidance of any doubt, what I mean by this is that the planet will continue in its orbit through space with or without the impact of climate change.  It may be cold dead rock, devoid of human life but it will still be a planet and it will be around for millennia to come.


People, on the other hand, probably won’t be here for millennia to come but while we’re here we should try to help each other and do what’s right for our fellow men and women. This is an easier concept to understand than saving the entire planet and is something we should all be doing more of, especially those of us in the corporate world.

Generally, this sustainability stuff is simple – it’s good for you and me, it’s good for our communities and it’s good for our businesses and their customers, investors and employees.

This focus on people – and the need for people to be at the front and centre of our thoughts is part of the reason why, over the past six months, we have been reviewing Interserve’s Group SustainAbilities plan to ensure that it supports the next phase of our growth, while also ensuring the plan benefits people as much as possible. As part of our updated plan we have set ambitious new targets to enhance the lives of 25,000 disadvantaged people and build 500 long term community relationships by 2020.


We have made the plan more user friendly with simplified goals and targets as well as providing an emphasis on flexibility, which will allow the different parts of our business to focus on the areas where they can have the most impact, rather than trying to do everything well but in a diluted manner.

If your business unit can have the biggest impact by working with disadvantaged groups in your local community to improve access to work then that’s what the plan encourages you to do.

If you can make a huge difference by reducing energy or water consumption or minimising waste creation, then that should be your target.  If there are opportunities in your value chain to start using more micro-businesses or social enterprises that will create jobs and improve the quality of life for the hardest people to reach in society then, ‘crack on!’

The plan is there to help you and recognise what you, your colleagues and customers are doing.

We still need you to report on the full range of activity, as getting a Group-wide picture of our impacts is still hugely important. However, I encourage you to have the confidence to look at the plan and choose the things you can do the most with over the next three years and really give it everything you’ve got to make a real and lasting difference.


Above all, remember that the reason we are doing this is for people.

If you meet people who are detached from the SustainAbilities plan, be sure to remind them that it’s not about saving the planet, it’s about improving the lives of people.

One of the other points on James Carville’s Clinton campaign list was: ‘Change vs. More of the Same’.

We’re changing our SustainAbilities plan – now, it’s over to you to help us deliver this change, people!

Mat Roberts

Mat Roberts is Director of Sustainability Strategy at Interserve.

  • Colin Braidwood

    Well said Mat.

    Looking on IRIS yesterday to see the ‘Opportunities for All’ ( really does drive this home.

    With people like Scott Hill passionately driving recruitment from disadvantaged groups I believe Interserve stand head and shoulders above many organisations in how they understand the crucial role they play within society.

    I look forward to the launch of the new plan and how it brings together, ever more closely, the many opportunities and benefits for people within the organisation and more broadly in the communities we live and work in.