How to launch an ESG program: A four-step plan

Strategy   |   Jennifer Yuen   |   Feb 6, 2023

Editor’s Note: ESG’s scale can make it difficult to know where to begin. Alteryx’s ESG and Sustainability Manager, Jennifer Yuen, identifies four simple steps she followed while launching our internal ESG program.

The start of my role at Alteryx coincided with a new board directive to prioritize an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiative. The goal was to build out an ESG reporting program to complement our Alteryx for Good initiative, with a focus on key ESG areas, such as reducing carbon emissions and promoting greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB).

But while we often hear about the benefits of ESG, we rarely discuss what it takes to get an ESG program off the ground. So, I’m sharing what I’ve learned developing Alteryx’s ESG program using our platform — including four steps to follow to help ensure your own program is successful, dynamic and a force for good in the world.

Start with a materiality assessment

ESG covers a broad range of complex, and, often, challenging, factors. From water usage and land protection to modern slavery and labor standards, even just knowing where your data resides for each concern is a task in itself.

That’s why, when starting out, it’s important to understand which areas need the most attention in your organization and, crucially, what your stakeholders believe is most important.

At Alteryx, we started by asking our key internal and external stakeholders which areas of ESG they felt we should initially focus on and what they believed was important to the success of the business. We then fed the results of this survey into a focus matrix, allowing us to strike the right balance between corporate and social priorities. It’s a good idea to begin by figuring out your material issues and build out your strategy from there. It’s a sure-fire way to help avoid complications further down the line, including information overload.

Understand your data

One of the key areas we’ve chosen to focus on as a business is environmental impact. But, understanding where all our data resided was a significant challenge — particularly where supplier and third-party data was concerned.

Take carbon emissions for example. It’s challenging enough to gather and process commuting habits, equipment inventories, and workplace behaviors for every employee. When you also have to do this for every company you work with, the volume and complexity of the data you’re dealing with can be staggering.

We used Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol guidance to define our category focus, which will help us set our reduction targets moving forward. And while our first year was largely based on estimations, the work we’ve done to identify data locations and relevant stakeholders means it will get easier to compile reports each year. My biggest piece of advice at this stage is to ensure you place an emphasis on relationship building and effectively communicating the benefits of the additional short-term workload to all stakeholders involved, especially those outside of the ESG or sustainability team. This will mean everyone understands what data they’re expected to supply, with the view that over time, these workflows can be automated.

Create your first ESG disclosure report

Creating an ESG report is the culmination of months of hard work wrangling and processing data into a single repository of truth and insight. It also shows your customers and investors how you’re performing as a company in each area of ESG and, as time goes on, how your operations have (hopefully) improved.

But ESG reporting is relatively new ground for many organizations and, like most types of change, can often be a victim of risk adversity.

That’s all set to change, however, with some reporting already mandatory across several territories — such as the European Union. And as of this year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is preparing to require organizations to publish more robust climate-related disclosures. As these mandatory disclosures loom, it’s sensible to figure out how to automate all your data workflows now and get your stakeholders comfortable with the process. This will help mitigate any issues and unforeseen hold ups.

Establish a culture of continual evaluation and improvement

Once you have an established reporting process in place, supported by the right data and automated workflows, it’s then important to continually improve them each year, and have the fluidity to adapt to upcoming changes.

Continual improvement could be ensuring data is fresh and as many workflows are automated as possible, for instance. Anything that accelerates reporting and reduces manual labor is an advantage and helps ensure the information you’re disclosing to the world is as accurate and transparent as possible.

In a world of data complexity, automation is key

While setting the right foundations to ensure you have complete confidence in your ESG disclosures is critical, key to this is finding all your data and figuring out how to automate your aggregation processes.

My background in financial reporting has certainly helped me understand the relationships between source data and operational insights, but it’s the automated data aggregation and workflows in Alteryx that have helped me accomplish what I have in such a short amount of time.

To find out more about data process automation using the Alteryx Analytics Automation Platform, get in touch with our team of experts today.