Q&A with Gerald Yao, Global Head of ESG and Strategy, on leveraging technology and advisory to produce FiscalNote’s first sustainability and social impact report.
Producing your first corporate sustainability report is an enormous achievement. This project can be months in the making (or even years) — and involve intricate collaboration with advisors, navigating new tools and software, managing an immense volume of data, and working closely with every department in the company.
We met with Gerald Yao, Global Head of ESG, Chief Strategy Officer, and Co-Founder of FiscalNote, about what it was like to produce the company’s first Sustainability and Social Impact Release with the help of the Equilibrium platform and FiscalNote ESG advisors.
What was the intention behind FiscalNote’s first sustainability and impact report?
Yao: We wanted to produce something that would encourage action and accountability. Because it was our first time, we wanted to keep it simple. Rather than publish a 100-page sustainability report, we decided to produce a shorter initial “release” via webpage format. We believed this would lead to faster action and accountability to ourselves and the world. We plan to do this every year and to incorporate ESG into our public filings now that we’re publicly listed.
What key sources and tools did you use to build the report?
Yao: We used our own internal CSR and DEI functions, FiscalNote ESG advisors, as well as our Equilibrium platform, which specializes in ESG and climate strategy. We also worked with cross-functional stakeholders such as our Head of People & DEI, and our legal team. Because we’re a global company, we wanted the report to cover every branch of the company around the world, which made it somewhat complex. We also didn’t want to stop at Scopes 1 and 2; the report includes our total GHG emissions, including Scope 3, except for certain acquired businesses we plan to include in future reports.
How was the process of calculating scope 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions?
Yao: The Equilibrium platform was crucial to this project’s success. It made it far easier to aggregate and report on data than relying on cumbersome spreadsheets. It also gave us peace of mind knowing that if any of our team members were to leave the company, the data is stored in a centralized system and not in a collection of personally managed spreadsheets.
Any company that produces ESG reports would benefit tremendously from a software system that can handle the data requirements. For example, finance and accounting departments have long relied on systems to keep data and workflows organized. Smaller businesses might use QuickBooks, while larger companies eventually graduate to more sophisticated platforms. Either way, without robust systems in place, you expose your company to serious risk — not just in how long it takes you to complete work but also in the accuracy of your data. Not having suitable systems in place will cost you unnecessary time, money, and frustration.
How critical was the guidance you received from the advisory team?
Yao: Without our FiscalNote ESG advisors, this entire process would have been far more difficult and expensive. It’s tough to access top talent in the world of ESG, sustainability, and impact. We were lucky to be able to lean on their fantastic minds; had we been forced to bring people in-house, build and manage a team from scratch, or even work with a household-name consulting firm, this process would have cost far more than it needed to.
That’s why our clients truly benefit from switching to Equilibrium. It’s not only the platform that streamlines and improves data and workflows, but also the experienced advisors who help clients through every step of their ESG journey.
What surprised you most when building the report?
Yao: Anecdotally, I knew it would take a lot of work, but hearing stories is completely different from experiencing it first-hand. What surprised me was the amount of time we ended up spending working with cross-functional groups. As a side benefit, I learned a lot about our business in the process. Although I co-founded FiscalNote, it’s easy to lose touch with certain areas of the business as a company grows. Working with individual departments and team members to produce the report gave me a clearer sense of how the business operates today.
What advice would you give to companies preparing for their first sustainability and social impact report?
Yao: Firstly, get started early to give yourself buffer time. If you’re going to do it right, it’ll take much longer than you expect. Secondly, talk with your People or HR teams in-depth, and do everything you can — including using a platform like Equilibrium — to ensure your data is accurate. And finally, work closely with your legal team when publicly disclosing climate and impact data and other types of information commonly covered in reports like these. They’re there to protect you!
What’s the plan for 2023 and beyond?
Yao: This year, we’ll be releasing our 2022 report. We’re working to manage the process even better this time around for our second report. Now that we’ve done it before, we’re well prepared: the data is already in Equilibrium, we’ll be working with the same cross-functional stakeholders and FiscalNote ESG advisors, and we can easily compare and benchmark results year over year.
Why FiscalNote ESG Solutions?
As your ESG goals and plans evolve, staying on top of risks and opportunities in your supply chain is vital to building a year-end report and setting actionable strategies for the next year. Save time and future-proof your organization’s ESG reporting with Equilibrium, an award-winning ESG compliance and automation platform and get guidance from our ESG advisors.
Learn more about how FiscalNote ESG Solutions and Equilibrium can help you stay ahead of ESG disclosure, sustainability reporting, and climate risk management across your entire value chain.