Adam Bastock


Sustainable Success: A special journey in small business with Adam Bastock

June 13, 2024

Hello, I’m Adam, and sustainability has become a core part of my life and work. I believe sustainability is crucial, especially in my work with small businesses.

It’s not just about being ethical or environmentally friendly; it’s also about ensuring financial stability. My goal is to help businesses not only survive but thrive for the next 5, 10, or 15 years. This involves addressing immediate pressures while setting up long-term strategies for sustainable growth.

From a young age, I’ve always been intrigued by the complex dynamics of business and sustainability. Growing up in Rugby, in the Midlands, my life was relatively straightforward. Rugby is a quiet town, best known for being the birthplace of the sport with the same name, but there’s not much else that stands out. My upbringing was stable and unremarkable, but it laid a solid foundation for my future endeavors.

I have two sisters who are quite a bit older than me—ten and twelve years older, to be exact. Watching them go off to university and start their lives provided me with a window into adulthood. However, unlike them, I didn’t feel the university path was the right fit for me. I attended a comprehensive school and later one of the local grammar schools, which pushed heavily for university admissions, particularly to Oxbridge. Despite the pressure, I deferred my entry and opted for a more flexible Open University degree while working part-time at Sainsbury’s.

In my late teens, I started exploring entrepreneurial ventures. I launched an Etsy store, selling handmade cufflinks and laser-cut jewellery, which gained some traction. This experience sparked my interest in small businesses and the intricacies of running them. Moving to Brighton in 2010 to be with my boyfriend only broadened my horizons further. Brighton’s vibrant and diverse community offered ample opportunities to engage with other small business owners, particularly in the local markets and craft fairs.

My professional journey truly began when I quit my job at Sainsbury’s in 2014 to work for a small business in Brighton. This job was a crash course in web development and e-commerce, as I was tasked with rebuilding the company’s website—a significant leap of faith on both their part and mine. This hands-on experience was invaluable, solidifying my skills and knowledge in digital marketing and web development.

I continued to build on this foundation with subsequent roles, such as working for an industrial shelving company in Crawley and an art gallery in Brighton. Each position taught me something new, from Google advertising and SEO to managing complex e-commerce platforms. By the time I decided to go freelance, I had a comprehensive skill set and a clear understanding of what small businesses needed to succeed in the digital space.

As a freelancer, I aimed to bridge the gap between highly technical expertise and practical, actionable advice for small business owners. I found that many businesses were overwhelmed by the complexities of SEO and digital marketing, often investing in advanced solutions before addressing fundamental issues. My approach was to simplify these concepts and provide clear, straightforward guidance to help businesses articulate their offerings effectively and improve their online presence.

How did I get myself into these companies as a freelancer? It was a mixture, really, but mostly just networking. Brighton is great for this because it has several active co-working spaces with a few hundred members. I started becoming part of the community there and got known for my work. Often, it was random conversations that led to opportunities. One of my biggest clients came from a conversation over coffee. Someone overheard us talking about SEO and approached me with a question, which eventually led to a significant amount of work.

Now, as a business owner and sustainability advocate, I’ve come to understand the profound interconnectedness of our actions and their impact on the environment. For instance, the origins of everyday products, like the toilet paper we use, often go unnoticed. Many people don’t realise that their toilet rolls might come from forests in Finland, which raises questions about sustainability and environmental impact. This lack of visibility is a significant barrier to making more informed, eco-friendly choices.

Sustainability is a vast concept that can be interpreted in many ways. For me, it means ensuring that a small business remains profitable and successful in the next 12 months through sustainable practices. Carbon reduction, for instance, is a significant focus because of its global importance over the next 5 to 10 years.

One of the challenges we face is making sustainability relatable and understandable for the average person. Many people feel overwhelmed or disconnected when they hear the term. Effective marketing can bridge this gap by telling compelling stories that communicate the benefits of sustainability. For example, a report from The Guardian showed that 53% of people couldn’t define what single-use plastics are. This highlights a gap in understanding that needs to be addressed.

We’ve known about climate change for decades, with some studies dating back 150-200 years. Yet, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise annually. This indicates that the sustainability movement has not succeeded in winning hearts and minds on a large scale. While governments and corporations play crucial roles, the power of a well-told story can be transformative at a grassroots level.

Instead of framing sustainability in a negative light—emphasizing what people must give up, like flying, eating meat, or driving—we should highlight positive alternatives. For instance, talking about the joys of longer holidays by train, or getting employers to offer more holiday pay for eco-friendly travel. Making sustainability fun and relatable can make a significant difference.

The goal is to simplify and link the benefits of sustainable actions to people’s lives. Right now, we are far from this ideal. Many believe we need more education on climate change, but I think that’s not enough. Education is slow, and most people don’t want to spend more time learning about something negative. Instead, we should inspire and make sustainable living desirable, akin to the allure of owning a luxury car, despite their environmental impact.

Ultimately, this requires a cultural shift. COVID-19 showed us that rapid cultural changes are possible when there’s a compelling reason. We need to create a similar impetus for sustainability. Fear and doom-mongering, while highlighting the urgency, often fail to motivate lasting change. Instead, we should focus on showing how sustainable practices can enhance quality of life and ensure a better future.

Legislation and government intervention play crucial roles here. For example, a few years ago, a major supermarket in Norway implemented carbon labelling on receipts, showing customers the carbon footprint of their purchases. This initiative led to a significant reduction in the average carbon footprint per shopping trip. Similarly, the UK could benefit from universal carbon labelling, which would encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices.

The potential for rapid decarbonization is immense. The technology to reduce emissions drastically by 2030 exists, as evidenced by innovations in solar energy. However, market dynamics often hinder progress. For instance, despite the affordability of solar panels in the Netherlands, supply chain manipulations are inflating prices to maintain market stability. Government-led initiatives to mass-produce and deploy solar panels could significantly accelerate our transition to renewable energy and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

This brings me to the critical issue of responsibility and visibility in sustainability. As consumers and business owners, understanding the full impact of our choices is challenging but essential. Every aspect of our lives carries an environmental footprint; even the choice of web hosting services can influence our carbon footprint, an aspect I only recently became aware of.

In conclusion, the journey towards sustainability is complex and multifaceted. It requires a collective effort from individuals, businesses, and governments. By increasing visibility and understanding of our environmental impact, and by leveraging technology and legislative support, we can drive meaningful change. My goal is to help small businesses navigate this landscape, making sustainability both achievable and practical for everyone involved.

I hope to inspire others to see the value of sustainable practices and to realize that sustainability is not just an environmental necessity but a viable and profitable business strategy. Let’s work together to create a sustainable future that benefits everyone.

This blog was written by John Matthews on behalf of Tales to Inspire.

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