We are Stride’s ESG and Sustainability Intern (Anna) and Sustainability Consultant (Matthew). Earlier this year, Ken Judy, Stride CEO, brought us on board to help the company create an ESG and Sustainability model.
This is an opportunity we don’t take lightly. We have a unique chance to build a model from the ground up at a company that is making ESG and Sustainability a priority.
Our mission is not only to make internal changes that lead to real impact; we also want to share our approach and contribute to a culture and community of learning with other companies who are doing similar work or aspire to do similar work.
Conducting a Materiality Assessment
Our first task was to create a materiality assessment – a process through which we engage Stride stakeholders to determine the importance they place on a set of select environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
Materiality assessments can take different forms. ESG and Sustainability is still relatively new, and research on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to materiality assessments tends to be thin on the ground. But we are fortunate to have the backing of the Executive Leadership team at Stride to create and execute on a framework based on honesty and transparency.
As Anna says, “The ideas of transparency and disclosure are really important in approaching this. Some of the problems with ESG that are happening in academic research stem from companies not being fully transparent or disclosing activities. The way to develop a sustainability model and actually have it work is to be aware of everything, and have all information clearly defined and laid out.”
We chose to use a two-part approach: a brief survey, followed by a 15-minute one-on-one interview with each employee.
To build the survey, we reviewed the standards developed by the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB), the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and other sources, to define and develop relevant indicators for a software services company like Stride. Some of these were more specific to the sector, such as data privacy and cybersecurity, while others were broader, such as employee diversity and anti-corruption.
Ultimately, we prioritized nearly thirty indicators to include in the survey, which asks Stride employees to rank – on a scale from least important to most important – their personal perception of each indicator.
After the survey results came in we conducted the 15-minute interviews to gain insights in three key areas. Those areas were:
- Gain an in-depth analysis of how each employee perceives how Stride is working with ESG and Sustainability
- Understand whether their personal values align with Stride’s mission
- Determine whether they believe each indicator in the survey is relevant to Stride’s ESG and Sustainability goals
We spent a lot of time listening to employees, because the work of ESG and Sustainability is carried out, first and foremost, by people. Companies can develop a mission statement and marketing materials for ESG and Sustainability, but providing real value requires stakeholder buy-in, effort, and accountability.
Ben Blair, Stride Director of Marketing, agrees with this approach: “Striders at all levels care about ESG and Sustainability issues. We want to be a software services company that places as much importance on providing value to society as we do on providing value for our clients.”
Building the ESG and Sustainability Plan
With this information, we have a clear view on what Striders think is most important. Working with Executive Leadership, we determined both the business impact and the stakeholder impact of each indicator, based on the combined assessment and interview results. Where the highest-ranked business and stakeholder priorities overlap is where the company’s ESG and Sustainability efforts should be focused.
Stride (we) will use these priorities to guide three-, five-, and seven-year goals, as well as to articulate a larger, 15-year vision. While it might seem unnecessary to look so far into the future, especially for a company in the fast-changing technology services space, ESG and Sustainability is not a one-and-done process. It is a long-term investment and an ongoing process that is never truly complete. Our work of building a framework supports and sustains that continuous journey.
The goals we create will help people make decisions about how and with whom we do business, and help clients and vendors decide whether they want to do business with us. These goals will give current and potential employees a clearer view of what Stride stands for and demonstrate a commitment to investing in our people – in their lives today and in the future.
Being part of a community where we can both contribute to and learn from matters to us. Our framework results might eventually lead to decisions for Stride to join third-party organizations or perhaps even pursue B Corp certification.
Matthew supports that possibility: “Earlier on in my career, I had a cool experience as a B Corp consultant as part of NC State University’s B Corp Clinic. That experience showed me how there is a choice for companies – that business can choose to do their work in a way that lessens their negative impact, or even has a net-positive impact.
As one of the primary causes of ESG and Sustainability issues, companies have a responsibility to change. We can’t tackle other problems if we don’t have food, a safe and healthy environment and planet, and a clean and reliable water supply.”
Looking to the Future of ESG
Right now, we are focused on doing the internal work to make Stride the best company for our employees and for our clients. We are forming the groundwork for future efforts – those will be easier if there are repeatable processes and steps in place.
Identifying KPIs and metrics to use provides us with a baseline for comparison over time to keep on track with our goals, but there is also enough flexibility in place should we need to pivot our strategy to incorporate new priorities. After all, we are living through a period of huge change. History is unfolding in front of our eyes. We need to be able to have real impact but also to adapt as needed.
We are excited about the work we’re doing. But this is only the beginning for Stride and for the industry.
As Anna says: “I hope Stride can use this opportunity to find like-minded companies to grow and improve even more, as well as to serve as an example to other services companies. This approach moves away from a dependency on investments and investor relationships to provide real value for environmental, social, governance, and sustainability challenges. I encourage every business, every organization, to do the same thing – develop, implement, and execute on an ESG and Sustainability model.”
Anna Polo is a student at Georgetown University, Walsh School of Foreign Service. She is a Sustainable Business Fellow with coursework in International Relations, Finance, and Trade, Business Strategy, Accounting, and Finance, and Global Investment.
Matthew Mullens is an intellectually curious professional with a passion for sustainability in business practices, supported by hands-on experience across various roles. Through many failures and some success, Matt founded Empasta in 2019, an e-commerce and retail food business that produces tasty plant-based cheese sauce with the goal to make healthy options satisfying and accessible. Matt enjoys his free time in nature, reading, and cooking food at home that some people may find questionable.