Madelyn Postman: We Bridge the Gap Between Sustainability Insights, Communications Expertise, and Delivering Successful Projects

November 28, 2022
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Our mission is to help businesses become champions for people and the planet.

We provide organisations with sustainability assessment, planning and implementation tools to create a positive impact on people and the planet, while increasing stakeholder engagement and providing competitive advantage. 

Grain was born in 2002 as a branding and design agency, working primarily in the sectors of technology, travel and transport, education, property, and lifestyle.

Over the years, we have shifted the focus onto sustainability, aligning our work even more with our personal values, and today we work wholly in sustainability consulting and communications, with clients in education, built environment, logistics, manufacturing, packaging, plastics, financial services, and fashion.

Our aim to use business as a force for good is reflected in our status as a Certified B Corporation.

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve worked for myself almost my whole life — I only had an actual salaried job from 2000-2001. My first jobs were freelance and since 2002 I’ve had my own companies. Also since around 2002 I worked with my boyfriend who then became my husband.

We have two kids, a dog, a cat, and some fish, and it’s always been important to us to keep a healthy balance between life and work. For example, we don’t talk about work at all at weekends.

These days that means not even talking about sustainability topics.

What is your background? What made you get into this line of work?

My degree from Brown University is a double major in visual arts and art history. I went to Italy for my junior year abroad and ended up staying there for more than seven years, finishing my studies in the meantime.

I began working there in graphic design and learned on the job. In the late 90s I started working in the Corporate Image Department of Gucci in Florence and then moved with that job to London in 2000. In 2002 I left and a friend and I started our own branding studio.

Over the years, my design work focused more on branding and then brand strategy. Eventually my husband and I joined forces with Grain, which at the time was a branding and design consultancy.

We most enjoyed our work with purpose-driven clients and we wanted to make a difference to the way companies work. A few years ago we decided to shift our focus to sustainability, and brought on board an experienced team in order to do that. It was a restart.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

To manage finances well, not just cash flow but also having the discipline to make forecasts and compare them to reality and to adjust accordingly.

Also to ensure that you pay yourself properly as the business owner. It’s all too easy to pay everyone else first and not have enough left over for the owners. Of course if you’re bootstrapping, there may be a time of sacrifice but make sure you know how long that will be.

I would also reassure myself that focusing on sustainability would pay dividends not just ethically but financially too.

What problem does your business solve?

Everyone needs to step up to face the climate crisis. Governments, civil society, nonprofits, and individuals can all play their part, but we believe that business has great power and responsibility in sustainability.

Some companies simply want to do the right thing, but others are facing commercial pressure, some regulatory compliance (there’s still not much), and also trying to meet expectations of stakeholders like employees and end consumers.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

We used our experience of running our own consultancy and aligned it with our personal values. We’re driven by our children, hope, and a love of animals and nature. Our amazing team and our peers inspire us every day.

What inspired your business? What problem are you trying to solve and for whom?

We work with clients across different sectors (fashion and textiles, built environment, sport, industry associations, education, and more) who want to build on their sustainability commitment.

Whether it’s the first step on the journey, communicating success on progress achieved, through to creating a net zero roadmap, we can help at every stage.

Clients approach us with a wide range of sustainability issues. With our B Corp status and 1% for the planet, we are well placed to help businesses solve the challenges that they face.

What is your magic sauce?

Openness, curiosity, determination, and optimism.

An outline of your magic sauce. How do you differ from the competition?

We bridge the gap between sustainability insights, communications expertise, and delivering successful projects.

We are dynamic and flexible; our core team is supplemented by trusted experts as and when needed, and together we are experienced across a wide range of industries.

Our offering is tailored to each individual organisation and we take time to speak with and understand our clients.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

We are growing organically, taking on more junior and middleweight consultants. We work remotely and meet currently a couple of times per month in London. We are continuing along this path.

What is the vision?

To help more and more businesses make substantial changes to the way they work, decarbonising the economy and considering all stakeholders rather than just shareholders.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

In the bigger picture, there is still not enough urgency or legislation around the radical changes that need to be made.

What has made you have to change course? What issues have you run into?

We have changed course driven by our personal values. Our business issues are to keep a steady workflow and ensure we have good profit margins so we are financially sustainable.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Find out all you can about sustainability. There is a resources page on our site where you can start. Be a climate activist and spread the word!

Our typical client has £50-500m turnover, in pretty much any sector. Most are UK-based, including international companies.

The main criterion is that the business sees the need for change and will commit to it – but they may not know where to start and that’s where Grain Sustainability comes in. If that’s the case, get in touch with me at [email protected].

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