strategy, sustainable business

Why impact companies need impact service providers

Sandra Stewart | August 7, 2022
Impact services providers fist bump

As boundary-pushing enterprises know, there’s nothing easy about remaking systems, changing behavior or creating the imaginative space that allows new ideas to flourish. It’s not just resistance that stalls progress, but also the human tendency toward status quo bias. That tendency is so powerful that impact-focused businesses themselves often get mired in status quo bias when it comes to their own operations: Many are missing out on the benefits of a supply chain stocked with impact service providers.

Building a roster of mission-aligned finance, marketing and other professional firms is well worth the effort. It increases your enterprise’s positive impact, reduces contributions to negative impacts, and ensures you have advisers who get your mission in a deep way and  can help you achieve it.

Improve sustainability and ESG metrics

Impact service providers help you infuse environmental and social sustainability throughout your supply chain and beyond. For example, All Good sought out a capital provider that’s funding an ecosystem of impact enterprises, so the company’s loan payments help support fellow sustainable businesses. Others are hiring professional firms led by women and people of color to build on internal diversity and inclusion initiatives as well as increase resilience.

Avoid undermining your mission

Some companies find the money they’re spending in their service supply chain is undermining their positive actions. Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert wrote in Fortune earlier this year about an “aha moment” when “we came to terms with the notion that if we give 1% of our sales away to environmental groups while banking with financial partners who finance extractive industries, we’re counterproductive hypocrites.”

Patagonia is now reallocating some of its business to institutions that are 100% fossil fuel–free, certified Benefit Corporations, and members of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. For example, the company is working with CNote, a women-led B Corp that deploys corporate cash to mission-driven finance institutions serving low-income communities, entrepreneurs of color and others who need better access to capital.

Get a faster ramp-up and savvier advice

When you hire service providers that understand your mission and position in the impact sector, you’ll get savvier advice and spend significantly less time bringing partners up to speed. Legal, benefits, marketing and PR are among the areas where impact service providers have an edge. Enterprises often come to Thinkshift, for example, after working with PR firms that didn’t get their goals or market and struggled to position them effectively. Clients benefit in multiple ways from our knowledge of the impact landscape: It enables us to refine their messaging and get their voice into trending sector-wide topics. It also allows us to deftly handle delicate, potentially brand-tarnishing communications.

How to shift to impact service providers

Evaluate your current roster. Review the providers you’re working with and determine which ones are already meeting your standards. If you can’t tell, ask what they’re doing in areas that are important to you and how they measure it. If they fall short of your standards, tell them it’s important to you and let them know what they can do to improve. Nudges from you can spur change—providers that haven’t thought much about sustainability pay more attention when they know their clients value it.

Find committed impact partners. When you decide to make changes or have new needs, make mission fit a key factor in your vetting process. There are a couple of shortcuts you can take:

Search the B Corp directory by industry, inclusion factors or impact scores—these companies have all passed a rigorous assessment of their environmental, social and governance performance.

If you’re looking for a PR or ad agency, find out if they’ve signed the Clean Creatives pledge to decline any future contracts with fossil fuel companies, trade associations, or front groups. That will keep you clear of negative associations. And if you sign the pledge not to hire “agencies that do dirty work,” you’ll show agencies you care about how they make their money.

Update your service provider procurement policy. Make impact service providers the preferred choice in your procurement policy—if people in your organization have to look for them, they’re more likely to find them. Specify desired standards in line with your goals, such as promoting diversity, equity and inclusion; reducing climate emissions in your value chain; and supporting industry leaders.

Like all sustainability initiatives, seeding your supply chain with impact service providers requires getting off autopilot. That can feel like a heavy lift. The load gets much lighter, though, as you fill out your roster and start reaping the rewards.

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