Meet Rob Minto

We interviewed our Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Onlii Rob Minto.

Rob Minto Colorado Ultra Marathon

Rob Minto, Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Rob Minto, Managing Director at The Onlii. We’re an agency that’s helping businesses transform the way they work for the better and contribute towards a net zero world.

Outside of The Onlii, I spend a lot of time running. I ran 10 marathons last year. If I can stay injury-free, my goal is to run 10 ultra marathons next year. I love tackling physical challenges and staying in shape. It gives me discipline and focus; which drives me in business and helps me stay healthy for my family.

What inspired you to launch The Onlii, and what is your vision for it?

I’ve worked for agencies, both big and small, for nearly 20 years. There have been great projects and people along the way. But over time, I fell out of love with the work and agency life. Things like staff burnout and unbalanced relationships had become the norm, and I wanted out.

Around 2018, I started reading about sustainability and doing my own research on the issues we’re collectively facing, globally. It took me down a rabbit hole. Once you start delving into sustainability, you can’t unlearn it.

It was during COVID in 2020 that I learned about B Corp and what it stood for as a movement. And I was really inspired by it. At that time, there weren’t any B Corp creative agencies in Leeds (thankfully, there are at least four now). I knew that myself and the other co-founders Mark and Natalie could bring three different skillsets, approaches and perspectives, to the business. It felt to all of us like a great opportunity to start a B Corp creative agency in Leeds, with a female leader, that puts people and planet ahead of making a profit.

How do you encourage and support young talent as well as career progression within the agency?

We invest significantly in training because it’s important to us. Every member of the team undergoes Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EEDI) training with our external EEDI Changemaker . Everyone is assessed and trained on DISC profiles, which helps us to effectively collaborate with one another. We also ensure everyone in the team is trained on sustainable marketing. In their first week all new starters have to complete the 100 points Sustainable Marketer Challenge.

We also do talks and guest lectures at universities (often at Leeds Beckett University) and encourage young people who are studying to speak to us about potential employment opportunities. It’s how we gained a new team member last year, our Account Executive, Beatrice, who was a recent graduate from Leeds Beckett University.

We’re really committed to training and mentorship, both as a business and as individuals. Which is why we’re pursuing the title of recognised alumni at Leeds Beckett University.

What are some examples of initiatives, networks or projects that reflect your company’s mission and vision?

From the very beginning, we aligned ourselves with 1% For the Planet. It’s a fantastic initiative started by Yvon Chouinard from Patagonia. This commitment involves contributing 1% of our annual turnover to support various environmental causes. It’s a straightforward process to join and allows businesses to direct their contributions to specific causes of their choice.

Another group we recently joined is Creatives for Climate, specifically the Ethical Agency Alliance, where we hold a founding member status. We currently have three sponsors in our business who are participating in Greenwash Watch Training , gaining insights that they can bring back to benefit the whole company. Through the Ethical Agency Alliance, we’re looking to connect with brands seeking creative support for sustainable projects. There’s a real skill shortage when it comes to agencies focusing on sustainability, particularly within the marketing domain. We’re hoping it gives us more chances to contribute to meaningful, and sustainable, campaigns.

We’re also passionate about pro bono work. Which is why we partnered with Just One Tree to provide their creative services. And we’re looking to partner with other organisations in 2024. There are hundreds of initiatives you can be involved with when it comes to sustainability, which is great to see.

What motivated you to incorporate sustainability into your business model?

We were passionate about creating a business around sustainability, but it presented a challenge from the start. We had some knowledge from the books we’d read, and the five pillars of B Corp (Community, Workers, Customers, Governance and Environment) as a blueprint. But while some aspects of it were quite intuitive — things like crafting good policies and fostering positive interactions with clients and brands — the sustainability and environmental aspects were still new to us. Admittedly, we were almost clueless about the tangibles: becoming carbon neutral, measuring our footprint, or working towards net zero.

Through my research and network, I decided to reach out to Alexis Eyre and Paul Randle, who were launching their Sustainable Marketing Compass after studying at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership. Bringing them into our business was a game-changer. They spent three days with us, embedding the Sustainable Marketing Compass into our business strategy and training the full team on sustainability as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG). Off the back of that we selected seven UN SDGs that we could actively influence as a business.

Incorporating these SDGs into our Performance Development Reviews (PDRs) has become a standard practice. Team members choose an SDG to proactively target — gender equality, for instance — and set objectives against it. We also align our targeted SDGs with those pursued by our client brands.

For Pets at Home, one of our clients, we meticulously measure the emissions of entire campaigns, including everything from the work done in our business to transportation and photoshoots. Once calculated, we offset these emissions using gold standard offsetting, linking it to the client’s targeted UN SDGs.

Alexis and Paul recently launched their book Sustainable Marketing: The Industry’s Role in a Sustainable Future. The Onlii was featured as a case study. We’re really honoured to be included in it and continue to make steps towards our goals.

Can you describe some of the sustainable practices your company follows?

As a business, we measure all our emissions. That’s step one for any company looking to be more sustainable. Because if you can’t measure something, how are you meant to reduce it?

Some of the ways we’re working to reduce our carbon footprint include encouraging car sharing, offering a cycle-to-work scheme, using lights in the office that use less energy and being as efficient as we can when it comes to travel.

In our employee handbook, we’ve provided advice and tips on ways to work from home sustainably and have listed the local and independent suppliers that we use as a business… and as individuals. We want to think carefully about how we spend and who with, on a day-to-day basis; from our office materials through to the drinks brands we keep in our communal fridge.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered in your sustainability journey?

Pursuing B Corp certification while launching the business was a challenge, because we were so passionate about doing things right from day one. We had to invest a significant amount of time and resources, ensuring that every aspect of what we were doing aligned with the B Corp standards and that we were following best practice.

It might have been easier to prioritise the profit side first and consider B Corp certification further down the road, but that wouldn’t have reflected our values and what we set out to do. As we enter our third year in business, we can confidently say that every step has been done purposefully and properly. And I’m proud of that.

What advice would you give to other companies considering B Corp certification and looking to become more sustainable?

Just take that first step. Connect with like-minded businesses, speak to others who have already done it. The B Corp process is challenging, but it’s also immensely rewarding. It’s built to be difficult to achieve and maintain; if it was easy, it would lose credibility and not be worthwhile. And if the B-Corp route might not be right for your business, there’s other things you can do, like joining 1% for the Planet — which is a straightforward way to make a positive impact.

I’d recommend anyone who’s interested to check out the B Corp website, have a look at the assessment and find out what’s involved. If you want to speak to a business that’s gone through it already, get in touch; we’d love to talk you through our experience with it.

What is your top takeaway, sustainability tip and advice?

1. Don’t get overwhelmed – There’s so much to learn when it comes to sustainability. It’s okay to take things one step at a time.

2. Start reading – Familiarise yourself with sustainability concepts. The 100 points Sustainable Marketer Challenge is a great starting point!

3. Measure emissions – I believe that it will soon become a legal requirement for businesses to disclose their emissions to the government. But it’s worth getting started now, anyway. We already have potential clients asking about our carbon footprint. So it’s good for business (as well as being good for the planet).

What do you wish you knew before starting your journey with The Onlii? What advice would you give yourself?

The advice I would give to myself is just to surround yourself with mentors that can support you and people you can rely on. Be prepared to be resilient and to always stay positive, even when you don’t feel like it.

How do you relax away from the agency?

I relax by staying active. Running marathons, meditating and cycling are my go-to’s, and help me stay focused when I am in work mode. I love going to football matches and spending time with my family — Natalie, and my son Andre


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