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Eco-economics: Crafting a sustainable business future


The importance of a holistic approach that champions the planet, people, and profit.

Dr Adam Jones

James Harrington

Welcome back to another episode of The MAJOR Difference where this season we're diving deep into the theme of positive impact.

Today, we're really excited to have a guest who embodies this theme in both his personal and professional life, Dr Adam Jones.

Adam is a principal lecturer of strategy and marketing at the University of Brighton and he's also the program director for the government funded Help to Grow scheme aimed at making businesses more resilient and sustainable.

Before entering into academia, Adam worked at a senior strategic level in the FTSE 250 company, gaining insights into the challenges of applying strategic marketing in a competitive environment.

His research interests are as diverse as they are impactful, ranging from leisure mobility to consumer behavioural change, particularly in connection with the environmental crisis facing our planet.

With a PhD focused on carbon-lite holidays, Adam brings a unique blend of academic rigor and real world experience to the table.

So let's dive in Adam, welcome, and it's great to have you here with us today.

Dr Adam Jones

Thanks, James.

James Harrington

So in terms of introductions, could you briefly talk about yourself and your role at the University of Brighton?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, sure. So as you said, I'm a principal lecturer of strategy and marketing. And what that means is I am in charge job and I were responsible for delivering lectures researching those areas.

Recently, I've just taken on the position as the Help to Grow director and that really is involved in trying to get local SME businesses to think about what they're doing, see if they can do it a more sustainable way, see if they can actually grow and actually therefore benefit the local community.

James Harrington

So this season's theme of the podcast is positive impact. Could you talk us through how your work aligns with that?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, sure. So the university and the school I work in has a real ethos and belief in having a positive impact through social justice and also environmental sustainability.

And what we're delivering on Help to Grow is trying to ensure that business can align with that. And the impact they have is because they're based mostly in the local community and what they do therefore has a real impact on local people, the local environment, local stakeholders.

So if they can do that in a more positive way, in a more beneficial way, both for the people, the planet, and also for profit, it means we're developing something that can really, really develop this local economy, for all.

James Harrington

You started your career in the travel industry, could I ask how you ended up in academia?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, sure, James you can. So it was total fluke. I did my degree, I floated around for a number of years. And eventually I got a temporary job at in, in a travel company living temporary down here in Brighton with temporary friends and that turned permanent. I was Head of Marketing, I had a great time traveling the world seeing places with the travel industry.

But in that I was actually researching and looking at how you could do corporate social responsibility. Now, this is the nineties before this became such a buzzword and identified that, yeah, the travel industry and the tourism industry has great benefits, but also has some negative aspects.

And one of the biggest negative aspects unfortunately is flying. I really enjoyed my job, I enjoyed my career there, but I just wanted to change because I thought what I'm selling here actually is a destruction of the planet.

And I'm, I'm not evangelical. I go on holiday still, I still fly. I just didn't want that as part of who I am. And so I retrained as a teacher; did that at Brighton University. And I did really six good years teaching 11 to 18 year olds, business, economics, and food tech, of all things. It was the time of Jamie Oliver and all those dinner things, really great time.

But then I got the chance to, I was doing guest lectures at the University of Brighton. It's what I wanted to be, it was part of my plan, I suppose as my, my strategy as it work because I'm a strategist to get into lecturing.

So I got my Master's and I started working in the School of Service Management down in Eastbourne as a lecturer, then senior lecturer, now, principal lecturer. So it's quite a varied career. And the last point I suppose in that I've had to get my PhD, which goes back to what we talked about earlier about flying, trying to understand how people can give up those Hollows in the sun, which we all dream about.

James Harrington

So your research interests, they include measure of mobility and consumer behavioural change. And as you just said, you have PhD focused on carbon-lite holidays. Could you talk a bit more about how the key findings from your research relate to what we're talking about today?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, I can talking about flying on holidays is that the reason I chose that it's such a hard thing to do.

People are happy usually to recycle, put those envelopes in the recycle bin, put the bottles in, but trying to do something as significant as giving up like a holiday or your car is really difficult.

And I think what my research findings were is saying the fact it's not an individual thing, it's a group thing. We've got things like social norms. So there's a social norm about having a bigger car. There's a social norm, shall we say about having the aspirational holiday. And so we need to work together on this.

It's not people talk about behaviour change -, the individual thing - and these big things are not individual, they need support and working together.

And hopefully that's I'm thinking how small businesses, local business can help and support that by working much more community led in order to benefit those that work for them, those that shop with them, those that work with them, and people that buy the products.

So I think what my research has identified, it's not an individualistic thing. It's got to be together in this. We're all, it's only one planet. We all live here together and how can we work together to make it happen? But it's not easy.

James Harrington

So why would you say sustainability is so important to you?

Dr Adam Jones

Personally, I've lived in many countries. I've seen the degradation that goes on, I suppose, partly from the travel industry. I've seen the positive aspects and the negative aspects and just thinking about we do live in this one beautiful place. We're here in the South Downs, we're here in Brighton. What a fantastic place to live. The sea. You've got the south downs, but we're destroying it.

And that is not just for us, it is for our future generations and the inequity of it. You know, if you look and see what's going on at the moment, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the disparity is not being helped by the current economic system. And sustainability is about people planet and profit for businesses.

So I'm not, I'm not one of these people saying you can't make profit. We do need profit within businesses because without profit isn't a business. But I think it just comes back to trying to understand the inequity of it and trying to say, how can we make the world more equitable and thinking it through, you know, economy has done a great job.

There's billions, more people on the planet and there's less people in abject poverty, but we can't keep on going like this. We can't keep on going the rate we're going.

Otherwise the future generations will not have a sustainable plan to live on.

James Harrington

So you're the program director at the University of Brighton for the government funded Help to Grow scheme. Could you talk through the scheme in a bit more detail than its objectives?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, sure. So it's been going for, we've been running for one year. It's been going for about two years now. So this is a scheme that Rishi Sunak, when he was the Chancellor, put in place in order to try and support small businesses SME businesses grow.

And the program is a mixture of online and face to face over 12 weeks. So people on the program, which is leaders of those organisations in the first week, have a two hour online session the next week is another two hour online session and then a four hour face to face workshop. And this is repeated over the next 12 weeks.

The leaders get a mentor in order to help them develop their growth plan. The main benefit that we have been told by the SME leaders that have gone through the program so far is they just love having time to think about the business.

So working on the business rather than in the business. So it's a time together that way. They love working with other SME leaders to talk about elements that they've got the problems, their issues, they've gotten us in a safe and secure way.

Many of them really enjoy having a mentor, someone that really develops them as a leader and helps them develop their program or what they're trying to deliver. They become alumni of the Help to Grow program that means going forward, they come to talks workshops that we try and put on.

And for myself, we've been talking about sustainability, what I love about the program is it really helps those leaders out there to try and think about "how can you run your business more efficiently"?

Usually by being more efficient, you are more sustainable environmentally because you're not wasting products and resources with our SMEs, we wouldn't have the tax revenues that pay for the service we've got. So we need to grow them, we need to grow them sustainably. And the Help to Grow program allows us to do that.

James Harrington

And how do you ensure that the program is accessible to SMEs across quite a diverse range of sectors?

Dr Adam Jones

Well, I'm on here today with you. So hopefully that's going to help. To date so far, we've had aeronautical, we've had fertility programs, we've had lawyers, solicitors, marketing people, we've had jewellery makers, we've had cake makers. So we've had quite a broad spread, shall we say of different SME businesses?

I've been tasked with making sure the fact that gender balance and I've been working very hard for that and I'm very pleased to say that we have a 50:50 gender balance now on the program and now I'm looking to sit and diversify it into community interest companies or those organizations, shall we say that fit more to the the ethos, shall we say sustainability and the three different aspects it's got.

It's a struggle because as usual, you've got those organizations, those people that know what they want and self-achieving. And I'm trying to reach out maybe to those organizations, those SME leaders who a bit more reticent or a bit more worried, but thinking that this is the program for them.

James Harrington

Have you got any specific success stories, you could talk through with people that have participated in the scheme?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, sure. So we've got an example of, I won't give names, but an organization who was halfway through the program worked out the fact that marketing was an element that were missing. They need to do something about marketing. And so they've actually employed someone to do their marketing for them to make that happen.

Another organization has looked at their sustainability trying to rethink through how they can source products that are more sustainable, not damaging the environment. And also shall we say some of their staff

We've also had organizations that start to rethink through, one of the programs we've got, which is one that I run with the marketing side of it thinking actually, what are we about what we were trying to achieve and do we need to really focus in on what we're trying to do. Trying to do everything for everybody, which is not a good marketing strategy rather than through what, what's our unique differentiator. How do we communicate and talk to those group of people that maybe are interested in our products in a more efficient way.

James Harrington

So the, the scheme itself is 90% funded by the government. Is that really true? It sounds almost too good to be true.

Dr Adam Jones

That's a really good question, James, because we've actually had that from a number of people who applied.

Really? Do I get this money back?

No, it's true. The program is about £7,500 per place and anyone wanting to do it only has to pay £750. The reason being the government really do want to encourage and support SME businesses to grow. Growth has been a big problem for the UK economy for a long time.

We are not efficient in what we're doing and the government see this as a really good win opportunity. So they're putting a lot of money behind it. And to come back to that £750 through the Brighton Chamber, there's opportunity for even discounting down.

And I must say when I took this program, I thought I'd be, I'd be inundated with people. I'll be, you know, I'll be able to fend them off. It's not been the case. I've had this role for a year and it has been a struggle. SME leaders are busy, they have a very, very busy schedule. An email from me, I'm sure just goes straight to the spam box. It's hard to communicate with them.

And so it actually has been quite a struggle to get people onto the course. I'm very pleased to say the fact our two courses we've got going on in September are full. We are now recruiting for February. But yeah, this level of accessibility has taken some time to happen even though, as you say, 90% funded. Yes, it is really 90% funded by the government.

James Harrington

What's the typical time commitment involved with someone participating?

Dr Adam Jones

So, I've worked it out as a 50 hours over the 12 weeks and that breaks down into the workshops which people really do like. The face-to-face after COVID as all of us are stuck in our bedrooms or what have you? People really do enjoy that. The 1-to-1 mentoring and then also the peer group. So it's all together is 50 hours.

Obviously, as I say to my students, undergraduates, the more time you put in the better grade you're going to get. But that is the commitment we're asking for 50 hours over the 12 weeks.

James Harrington

Do you think business leaders are afraid of the work required to achieve sustainable change in their businesses?

Dr Adam Jones

Oh, definitely.

It's when someone says I'm going to be sustainable, you're holding yourself up to be shot down. And that's a shame because actually there's great benefits by engaging with sustainability. So I think one of the first things is not to be afraid of it and to start thinking through what you can do, easily.

Take a stand, a stand that you're comfortable with and what it's about and start engaging your employees and engaging your customers or whoever you want to. And the reason I say that is the fact that we are in a slight crisis where people find it very difficult to recruit staff.

And we do know from youngsters coming through from the university, et cetera, there is a greater belief in the ideas of sustainability of the planet and people. And so I think if organisations start to think about what is it, they are, who they are. What are they doing?

There's an example I've read about where the coffee, we all have coffee. So only about 2% or 3% of the coffee bean goes into your coffee. The rest, 98%, I've got my maths right there goes into landfill. Well, actually that makes a great element to grow mushrooms. And so from that you can get something that's coming through. So I know that's probably extreme example, but if coffee house or big coffee companies come together rather than put this together in landfill, we can think about ways of how we can use that. You're starting to engage in something that then got a good story.

If you're a café and you're saying the fact we're using this and here's some of our free mushrooms, you've got a really good story about sustainability and it's not just about sustainability and that because you've got a good marketing story to attract and retain your customers and hopefully your staff.

So yes, I think it is scary. It's, you know, it's one of those words that we talked about earlier, is it loaded? But I think it's trying to think through what is it, you can do what's feasible within what you've got. Remembering also profitability but try and think of not profitability at the expense of people and planet and so working together.

James Harrington

Do you think it depends on the, the type of business as well? So if I look at our business, we've got a relatively light footprint. We're a web development agency and our footprint is pretty light. We're not manufacturing any products or a processing material. So for a more diverse range of businesses, what are the key considerations?

Dr Adam Jones

So, for what you've got, I think it's, first of all, probably trying to do an audit. What is your carbon footprint? And how can you maybe thinking about reducing it and what it's about?

But then for yourselves, it's probably more thinking actually what's the other elements of, of sustainability? It's about people. Okay. So what is your diversity? What, how are you responding to inclusivity in what you're doing? Who you're trying to attract what you're trying to do? And then thinking through also about how you might make that as part of your brand.

So I would suggest look at these 17 sustainable development goals from the United Nations, maybe thinking about some of those, maybe the environmental ones aren't so much for yourselves, but it's much more those people, ones, social justice, things like that, that you might be able to align with.

James Harrington

So we touched earlier on the subject of sustainable economics for those new to the term. Could you talk through what sustainable economics actually is from your perspective?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah, I'm glad you said from my perspective because that is a loaded term, James, what I'd say is sustainable economics or sustainable business, et cetera is trying to think of those three things, planet, people and profit, you do need profit because without a profit, a business is not, we will not keep on going. So it's still important to think about profit.

But then it's thinking about the other two things, the people and the planet and sustainability is trying to say, well, how can you operate and what can you do in order to make sure the fact that you are not ruining the planet you're using within its limited resources in the best way possible.

But also you're doing in a way that's got social justice, that's not impacting negatively on certain people to make sure that others don't then benefit.

I think one way of thinking about this is rather than thinking, you know, business is a process, you take something, you extract something and you have some, you know, some apple at the end, to try and think of it in a way that's circular. Okay. What are you doing? Why are you doing it and how can you reuse that?

Then the second thing you think? What are you in business for one of my bosses? A long, long time ago said Adam, people do not come into the office, they don't leave their ethos behind them and think, right, I'm at work now, I'll burn the planet or I want to, you know, I want to ruin people's lives, the majority of people don't think that.

So thinking it through to holistically together, we live in a community, our business is in a community. So how can we work together in order to expect, you know, you think about the sustainable development goals about peace justice, a fair world, thinking about the planet, the oceans, we work in a way that is fair to all in a way that meets the fact that we can improve standards of living.

But then you've got to think about, well, what are those standards of living in the sense that certain people have a lot more than others and can we keep on going like that? But in a way that is fair and just, you know, fair social justice to people involved in that. And also in a way that doesn't degrade the planet at the same time.

Again, this report and the report in 1987 and said sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. So he's trying to look at that, it's very much environmental side of it saying how can we ensure the fact we have our, our life the way we want it, the business of producing the products and service we want.

But ensuring the fact we don't, you know, ruin the planet, trash the planet. The fact there's no products or service can be have in our future generations.

James Harrington

What are some criticisms or, or limitations of sustainable economics?

Dr Adam Jones

It's a very good question that James because it comes back to one of the mantras we all have is what's our gross domestic product? How much is the country producing and how much is the world producing?

And in order to get people out of poverty, we need to produce more and more and more. And the problem with that is the world at the moment and the way the way businesses work can't do that.

So some economic theorists come might say, well, actually, let's question this idea of constant growth. Do we all need a new car? Do we all need those holidays? Do we all need every, all the consumer products we've got. Well, actually we probably don't.

And if you look at, you know, satisfaction levels, if you look at happiness levels, you look at health levels, it hasn't improved that much greatly in the last 20 years in comparison to how much the economy has grown.

So one of the arguments people have about sustainability and sustainable growth is saying, well, what actually is it we're trying to produce? What is it we want to do? What sort of community do you want to live in? And then try and ensure the fact that we set the economy, set businesses and what we're doing in a way that provides those services, those products that actually are what people want not what marketeers say they should have. And unfortunately, so far, a lot of it has been marketing and saying what we should have, which has been at the detriment of the planet.

James Harrington

You gave us a real world example earlier that illustrates the principles of sustainable economics with the coffee example. But what are some more general ways that businesses can adopt sustainable economic practices

Dr Adam Jones

If you think about the environmental sustainability, I think one thing is I think where are your outputs that you may be not using? Or where are your costs, shall we say, that are actually delivering to your bottom line?

So for example, when shops always have their doors open and that's one thing that, you know, there's a big debate going on about do you have your door open? If you shut your door because of trying to keep the heat in, you might not get customers going in. And I saw a really good example of, of an organisation or business where they've got a really big sign in the door saying "we are open, we're just trying to keep it cool" because it's summer at the moment we're trying to keep it cool in here.

And so in that way, you're not shouting about being environmental, but you're just totally getting over those, some of those barriers. And another aspect is to think about actually where you're sourcing your products from. And are you sure what's going on is what the organization is saying.

So if you've got a big, big product line, who is that company? Are, are they being responsible to their employees and where they're buying things from? So it's trying to think through, you know, choose some of those big aspects of what you're doing, dive into those, spend a bit of time on those and seeing if there's a way of either reducing the amount you use or ensuring the fact that actually it's been sourced in a responsible way.

James Harrington

Do you think businesses going down their supply chain and actually asking those questions, do you think that's limited to large organizations or SMEs starting to do that as well?

Dr Adam Jones

I think if they're not, they should be in the sense that one, there might be a way of reducing costs, which again comes back to this idea of making sure you've got sustainable profit. I think customers are starting to expect it now.

And so yes, you might get away with it for a while, but if it's later on identified the fact that actually you've done something to the environment or the planet or to people that you shouldn't have done through your purchasing. And I think, rather than trying to do it to all, don't say the fact you're going to do all, all of it.

What do your big suppliers, you know, pick out the ones that actually maybe have a big impact on what you're doing and organizations are thinking about this could think about a B Corp certification that is a big commitment and, you know, but it's worth it, I think because you will then have accreditation about how you are being sustainable.

But I think it's, you know, businesses are led by people and people working in them. And I think generally we do want to be more sustainable, environmentally and towards people. So it's a good way of engaging your staff through what you're doing. And it doesn't have to be the leader that takes it on. I'd say, engage your colleagues in this process. And so it can actually work as a way to sustain staff, recruit better staff because you're an organisation that hopefully has, you know, a belief in ethos that agrees with the environment, agrees with what we should do well for people and in a way that actually hopefully recruits and sustains their stuff with you.

James Harrington

And, and what are some emerging trends in sustainable economics? Are there any trends that you're seeing that are quite prevalent at the moment?

Dr Adam Jones

There's been quite a trend away from having products. Okay. So, but there's a big trend about experiences and how they align into sustainability is questionable.

In terms of products, you know, things are produced and that takes up resources from a planet. Experiences, they can be much more sustainable because, hopefully, you're not using as much resources to do so, but it depends how they're produced.

James Harrington

So, one of the arguments that people often give around where we are in terms of the environmental impact is it's too late. We're past the tipping point. Why should I bother? How would you answer people with that viewpoint?

Dr Adam Jones

Well, just recently, it's come out the fact that we are starting to achieve some really, really good developments in this, the expectation is that we're not going to hit 4.5 that has now come down to 3.5 or so.

James Harrington

Is that 4.5 degrees

Dr Adam Jones

4.5 degrees by the year 2100. That is coming down due to the efforts that have been done, the restrictions that people are putting in place and businesses. So we're not past the tipping point. There's still more to do, it's going to be hard, but we can do it as we've seen. The UK has shifted a lot of its electricity production.

We are not there yet and I don't want us to get there, I suppose. And it would be a travesty if we did get there because of inaction because people didn't engage with this. Or if people did respond to you, James, saying that, respond back and say no, this is our only planet, this is the only planet we live on and we need to take care of it and we need to do our bit.

James Harrington

We talked about business, but what can individuals do if you could give someone one thing to do to make an impact, to drive a more sustainable way of existing. What would you say?

Dr Adam Jones

I think first of all, by conscious consumption, trying to work out where is the priority and what you're doing, what it's about and the impact that has. So I know I've given the example of flying, that is the biggest, biggest individual CO2 production that most people have.

Not everyone flies on holiday, but people do. So if you're doing that, you know, don't do it twice, don't do it three times, just do it, do it the once and say that's my holiday that I'm going to have and I'm going to do that.

If you, you know, switch to sustainable energy, look at who you're buying your source of energy from and switch to it. So in that way, you're sending signals, the fact that you are trying your bit to do your, make, make your effort, shall we say to keep the planet that we've got in a sustainable way?

James Harrington

Have you got any books or resources or recommendations for those who are interested in diving deeper into this subject?

Dr Adam Jones

Well, surprised, you'd ask that. This summer I read Doughnut Economics by Kate Rains. It's a fantastic, easily accessible book which goes through a number of these things talking about economic growth.

There's one theory saying the fact that, you know, you've got to get, this based on Schwarzenegger, you've got to get pain to gain, saying the fact that economies have to go through a really horrible time on the environment in order to come out the other side and clean it up. Well, that's been disproved in this.

And what she does is talk about how we can work together as communities, as networks, as processes and what we do in order to live within the environmental sustainability. So that's the outside of the doughnut and then also ensure the fact that we can look after people - that's the inside of the doughnut

Easy book to read. It's not too jargonistic. So something I think if people are interested in this really will help them engage with the conversation and hopefully help them in their businesses.

James Harrington

Could you just repeat the title of the book? I missed it.

Dr Adam Jones

Don't worry, it's Doughnut Economics - as in the sweet food.

James Harrington

So we've asked every, every person we've spoken with this question, it's quite a fun one, and I'm putting you on the spot here, but if you imagine that tomorrow, you were given control of all advertising and media spend in the UK for 24 hours. So every billboard TV, ad radio ad in this country, what would you say? And why?

Dr Adam Jones

Wow, that is a question, isn't it? Right, I got to think about this.

My thought would be just to show that the wonder of our planet from, from that you think about the original, when we saw the blue earth from one of the first people who went, went to the moon to the wonderful nature we've got, which has been talking a minute ago about, you know, dolphins swimming through Venice to show the fact that, you know, this is our only planet and how we are, what we can do to keep it that way and to make it so it's a benefit for us and our future generation.

So that I think is through imagery of how wonderful it is. But they also saw imagery and voices about those people that due to our consumptionist that we have how we are destroying our planet. But how we can work together to keep.

God, that's a big ask.

James Harrington

That's interesting. So if you were going to split it into one sentence, what would you say?

Dr Adam Jones

We've only got one planet. Let's look after it.

James Harrington

Just for a bit of context there, we were talking off air about during the pandemic in that period where animals took back control of the environment. We were talking about dolphins swimming through channels in Venice. So just so you understand the context there.

So have you got anything you want to share with our listeners?

Dr Adam Jones

Yeah. Sure. Apart from reading Doughnut Economics by Kate.

Help to Grow scheme we're recruiting for February, we're looking for our next cohort, please just Google Brighton University Help to Grow and we'd love to see you.

And a big thanks for a fantastic podcast.

James Harrington

Well, I think that brings us to a close this episode of The MAJOR Difference.

And I personally would like to say a massive thank you to our guest, Dr Adam Jones for sharing a lot of insights today.

Thank you.

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