Oliver Russell is a social impact branding agency based out of Idaho, principally working with purpose-driven clients in the natural food, healthy living, tech, and social enterprise categories. They will celebrate their 30th birthday in September this year.
Where did your passion for business with purpose come from?
Purpose has been there from the beginning in 1991. We started with a core value of social responsibility and we’ve worn it on our sleeve ever since. I guess, as the founder, I just needed to derive more meaning from my professional life than simply making money. We’re into our 10th year as a Certified B Corp and we also became Idaho’s first public benefit corporation in 2015.
What do you think is the importance of the B Corp movement for business –
The B Corp movement provides the best guiding light to demonstrate for other businesses how to use their resources to help solve the world’s social and environmental challenges.
If you think about the world’s financial resources as a pie chart, corporations possess about 2/3 of the financial resources with the rest from governments and nonprofits. So the biggest lever we can work for positive change is through business. And being a B Corp also gives people a viable option for spending their money with companies that align with their values.
So when you buy a product or service from a B Corp, you’re not only expressing your preference for companies that benefit stakeholders over shareholders, you’re also creating a powerful effect that magnifies the impact of your purchases.
What do you think is the importance of being a B Corp for your customers?
First off, we didn’t become a B Corp because we wanted to use it to gain new customers; we did so because it’s the type of company we want to be in the world. That said, we’ve been a B Corp for nearly 10 years and we’re just now starting to see customers coming our way because of it as recognition for what the certification means gains more awareness in the world. Call it the “birds of a feather” effect.
I can tell you one area where we’ve benefitted mightily, and that’s new employee recruitment. Prospective new employees, many from younger generations of professionals, absolutely love B Corps and they seek us out as a preferred place to ply their talents, so we’re definitely a beneficiary here.
How much does your business look to other B Corps as partners/suppliers?
Each year we do an audit and go through our supplier list and try to figure out how we can increase the percentage of our purchases from B Corps, mission-driven companies, or local suppliers. This year we also created an online learning tool called B Corp Basics that we’re using to educate our suppliers about B Corp certification. We also partner with a lot of B Corps on an ongoing basis, most usually in advocacy for cause-oriented initiatives or to promote the B Corp movement.
What examples of how B2B collaborations can really drive change can you point to?
Collabs are the best! Here are several examples I can point to over the last year. One was the “Shape Up The Vote” collaboration we did with your company, MaCher, and with NCompass International, a nonpartisan voter registration initiative to reach prospective Black male voters through the community of Black barbershops in Milwaukee, WI, and Atlanta, GA. You all did most of the heavy lifting; we provided modest cash resources and digital advocacy. So thank you for your work and for including us!
Another collab is a new joint venture we started with two other B Corps, Roundpeg and Unity Web Agency. Our three companies came together to launch a new company, Unit Co., that is developing a platform to help small businesses collect, measure. and report their impact. We also made small equity investments in fellow B Corps Regrained and Treefort Music Fest through their Wefunder campaigns. I like to think of those investments as just different types of collaborations.
What are your key learnings from the process of becoming B Corp certified?
Prior to becoming certified, I had a much narrower and simpler perspective on what a socially responsible company could be. Becoming B Corp certified provided me with a completely holistic framework for how our team can not only create social and environmental impact throughout our operations, but also build a better business that is more sustainable for the long run. A huge and underrated benefit is the community of B Corps around the world; so many bright and engaged people who have made me smarter; provided encouragement through good and bad times; and opened doors to new opportunities for our company. It’s a pretty special group.
What does the future look like for your business?
We’re in the midst of launching a consulting practice to help leaders galvanize their companies around social purpose and share it with the world. We’re also using our deep experience in the space to create online learning tools and products to scale our impact by helping other B Corps and social enterprises succeed in the marketplace.
Who is your sustainability hero?
Beyond Yvon Chouinard? Seriously, that’s a tough question — there are so many! So today I’ll keep it in the great outdoors, and I’ll shine a light on Davis Smith, founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, a B Corp in our neck of the woods (the Mountain West). He and his team are an inspiration to me. They’re on a mission to end global poverty and they’re creating the resources to do this by producing high-quality outdoor gear that is based on sustainable design principals using a high percentage of repurposed and recycled materials. And they do all this with an uplifting and beautiful brand spirit that’s evident in everything they do. Pretty amazing.
This article has been posted by MaCher to celebrate B Corp Month 2021 and build awareness of companies that meet the highest standard of verified social and environmental performance. For more information about Oliver Russell, please click here.