Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Alexandra Smith, Co-Founder at The Sustainability Group

Alexandra Smith is the Co-Founder at The Sustainability Group, a company on a mission to democratise sustainability.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

Before co-founding The Sustainability Group, I spent 10 years working in sailing focusing on commercial partnerships, most recently, I was the Commercial Director for Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, where I was responsible for the development and execution of innovative global partnerships.

In advance of that, I worked in hospitality, including helping set up the Sustainable Restaurant Association. I co-founded The Sustainability Group, a sustainability consultancy and built and launched our primary product, FuturePlus, an online platform that helps make sustainability accessible, achievable and affordable.

We saw that many businesses were struggling with their sustainability. FuturePlus helps companies to understand, measure, manage, report and improve their sustainability with a unique focus on ambition.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

Our office is near Waterloo in London, but I live on the South Coast a couple of hours by train ride away. A normal day involves toast, coffee and a short walk to the train station (or my second office, as I like to call it). I set myself up and work whilst I travel.

It is a brisk but short walk to the office, where the team works together on the many projects we have. We are incredibly lucky to have incredible customers and projects from around the globe which cover multiple social and environmental issues.

At the moment it is everything from helping clients progress along their FuturePlus ambitions, to Life Cycle Analysis for new products about to hit the market via the socio-economic impact of carbon credits. Which means the day is usually filled with a mix of internal and external meetings and often a trip across town to meet a client face to face.

We have a hybrid working schedule, but try to get everyone in the office together a couple of times a week, and use the ‘together’ time for collaboration and the time working from home for productivity. End of the day is back on the train and a couple of hours clearing off emails before the next day, which means when I walk in the door, I can put the laptop away and spend time with my family. 

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

Work/life balance is an interesting concept for anyone who has founded a start-up, the line between is very hazy. One that probably leans more to work than life at the moment.

However, one of the best things about having a growing team of amazing people around you is that over time you are able to share the workload and our flexible working means we can all make sure that life and its needs are met but being reasonable, considerate and kind to each other.

Rather than strict times or rules, which are often more stressful to abide by, I just make sure my weeks are full of things which are good for me. Sometimes that is a quiet day at home making sure I am caught up with work, but often it is a walk, run, time by the water or cooking with the family. I am lucky enough to live by the sea, and a dip in the ocean at any time of year is particularly life affirming.

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Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

I have taught myself that it is ok to close the laptop at the end of the day and have shifted up how I work. It can still be tricky at times, burnout for founders is high and making sure your mental health is in good order is a constant cycle and I think you have to be ok to have good and bad days.

I once heard someone describe being a founder as choosing a different precipice to peer over day, learn as far as you can and hope you don’t fall. That means it is frequently exciting work that takes all your concentration and resources but occasionally it goes wrong and you have to get back up to the next precipice the next day and that can be bruising work. 

I started running about 10 years ago, but during the pandemic and particularly in the last year, I have really prioritised putting on my trainers and getting out the door at least 3 times a week. It’s thinking time but also catch-up time for podcasts, music I love and sometimes just soaking up the feeling of being outdoors. It helps me figure out how to lean over the next precipice.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I have recently downloaded the Spoke App which blends mindfulness with lo-fi and hip hop music and would highly recommend trying, especially if the more traditional mindfulness and meditation apps are not for you.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

For me, it is being ok with the fact that balance for you will be entirely different to others. There are two little mantras I keep in mind. This too shall pass, a reminder of the impermanence of things and that if you give things time the good, bad, hard, easy will all evolve or end at some point and it is ok to celebrate in the moment, or sometimes just roll with the punches. And the other, it’s a marathon not a sprint, you have to pace yourself and keep some energy, patience, and passion in reserve for the miles to come.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.