Open Source Sustainability

In this episode, Neal Booker, Senior Manager of Inclusion and Diversity at Yext, shares valuable insights into how Yext incorporates sustainable practices and innovative strategies into its core operations to make a meaningful impact. After discussing Yext's sustainability initiatives, Neal delves into the company's efforts to foster a culture of environmental responsibility, where employees are encouraged to contribute to sustainability goals and make a difference in their local communities. Learn how Yext leverages its platform and partnerships to promote sustainable practices across the digital landscape and empower other digital organizations to adopt eco-friendly strategies.

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What is Open Source Sustainability?

We interview sustainability leaders across industries to learn what they are working on and how they are steering their companies toward a climate-friendly world.

Alex Lassiter - 00:00:00:

Neal, thank you so much for joining us today. Very excited to have you on the podcast, been following what you've been doing at Yext for over a year, and very excited to talk further on what Yext is thinking about in terms of sustainability. So maybe we kind of get started quickly and talk a little bit to me about what is Yext and how does sustainability fit into the mission here?

Neal Booker - 00:00:25:

I'm so happy you asked what Yext does. It's interesting because I was talking with a number of our engineers and our CEO last week, and we were joking and asking, how many minutes or seconds does it take for someone to define what Yext does? So that's the running joke. And I think it's important in this context to really understand what we do before we really get into our sustainability. And what we do therein, so long and short of it, is Yext collects and organizes content into a knowledge graph and then leverages a complementary set of products, including listings, pages, reviews, and search to deliver relevant actionable answers where customers, employees, and partners look for information. And we've been doing this for over 15 years, and companies worldwide have utilized our platform to create seamless, content driven experiences for their customers.

Alex Lassiter - 00:01:19:

That's great. So ultimately, what you do is you're centralizing really important data for businesses and making it easy for them to publish and share that with everywhere that people look for things, which is pretty incredible as you think about it, especially over the last 15 years, is what the Internet looked like and kind of what publishing to every network looks like today. That's a considerable difference in terms of the breadth of places that you need to touch.

Neal Booker - 00:01:49:

Absolutely. It feels like eons ago, doesn't it?

Alex Lassiter - 00:01:51:

It does. I was talking to somebody on a previous podcast, but when I was in second grade, I was in charge of recording the school video on how to connect to the Internet. So there's a video somewhere of second grade, alex actually unplugging a phone, plugging it into the Ethernet, hearing that great AOL talking noises, and waiting like, 15 minutes for it to connect. Just to show people, when you come to the library, you can get on the Internet and maybe go to the Encyclopedia Britannica or whatever people did back then. And then years later, here we are. Yeah, it's pretty fascinating. I can't wait to see what Yext kind of becomes in the next ten or 15 years.

Neal Booker - 00:02:34:


Alex Lassiter - 00:02:35:

So tell me a little bit about what sustainability means. Why is Yext thinking about sustainability in the first place? Why is this something that you're doing? And maybe talk to us a little bit about what sustainability means at Yext?

Neal Booker - 00:02:48:

Sure thing. So we're committed to building a great company in the long run by providing an equitable environment for our customers, employees, clients and shareholders, and environmental stewardship, social responsibility and corporate governance are going to have to be embedded in all of our practices. We're striving to become a better leader and to create a better sustainable future, quite honestly. We're hoping to develop and ensure that Yext operates in an environmentally responsible manner. And it's a focus for a number of reasons. One, because it's important to our employees. So it's been something that's been identified on our annual Employee Engagement Survey where we pose a question about sustainability and it's been identified as a key area of importance. And so we prioritize that because we know that it's important to our employees and thus it's important to the overall business operation. Secondly, it's important to our existing and potential customers. We've seen a significant increase in the amount of requests to complete assessments, questionnaires, certifications, surveys, you name it. And prior to moving forward with any of the contracts or renewals or RFPs, companies are now requesting this type of information. So no longer is it a nice to have or this company signifies in this particular way, this is now imperative to do business moving forward. So for those reasons, it's been something that's been a key focus for us moving forward.

Alex Lassiter - 00:04:14:

That's great. It's exciting to hear that because I know when we started working with Yext it was something that obviously, like you said, it was kind of a homegrown thing. Like this was something that was a built up thing of employees that cared about this stuff. And it's great to see a company one run with that and put some real wheels behind it, not just say, hey, we're going to have your green team and you can figure stuff out, but we're not actually going to implement anything. It's really great to see the company invest in this stuff and to actually make it a part of what they do. But what I'm hearing even more is this is becoming a part of doing business. Which is exciting to me because that's meaning that this wave of sustainability is becoming more of an expectation in the market. The historical definition of sustainability prior to people hearing the word ESG was People Planet Profit. This idea that businesses can't just be about making money, you have to think about your stakeholders internally and externally. You've got to think about your communities, you got to think about the people that make this business work and you got to think about supporting customers in ways that are going to help them achieve their goals. And so it's really great to hear that you all are helping to support that connective tissue there and I can understand why this would be something that would be a big value to you all. Tell me a little bit about what Yext today is doing in terms of sustainability. Are there any surprising facts or things that employees or customers think about today when they think about Yext sustainability?

Neal Booker - 00:05:45:

Yeah, right now it's a really exciting time because some really interesting things that our organization has done in recent memory include completing our first carbon footprint assessment with GreenPlaces shameless plug. We're gearing up to complete our second relatively soon. We're working closely in partnership with Google to add sustainability attributes to the Knowledge Graph and Built in fields, right? So there's obviously the component of the employee led community-based types of initiatives but then there's also utilizing our business for good. So again we're working closely in partnership with Google to add sustainability attributes in our Knowledge graph as in built in fields. So Yext customers can now seamlessly sync their information with Google business listings in real time to demonstrate their business commitment to environmentalism. In addition, we can collect sustainability level information about our business including energy from carbon free sources, food and beverage info, green services availability and eco-friendly toiletries packages and amenities just to name a few things. In addition to that, in the past year we've volunteered at local community spaces including the Lower East Side Ecology Center in New York City. We've held a number of employee engagement events at five of our global offices, each of them sourcing drinks and light bites from sustainable focused companies. On the fun side, we've also partnered and donated to various programs including the Rainforest Alliance, Rally for Rangers, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and again as I mentioned, the Lower East Side Ecology Center to name a few. In addition to that, we'll be producing our company's first sustainability report this year. So these are all working towards a larger goal which is to ensure that for one, our teams know that it is a priority for our business from leadership on down. Secondly, that if folks have an interest in doing better from an eco-friendly perspective, that they know there's a company that supports that. It doesn't just have to be a grassroots approach and someone has as an interest outside of work, but it's actually something that's instituted from a company that they work for, that they can love, they can get thrive in to ensure that they know that this company is actually walking the talk, so to speak.

Alex Lassiter - 00:08:04:

One thing that you mentioned there that I think is really interesting to dig in on and it kind of relates back to that original question of what is Yext? A very very common thing that I hear from businesses and from people is why on earth would a tech company do this? Why is this a tech company's responsibility? Why isn't this just something that Delta and Steel Company and Exxon needs to care about? Why does a tech company do it? And I heard the first piece of this, of the employee piece which makes a ton of sense but I love this idea that Yext as a business, I think you phrased it as like how do we use our business to be able to help further this mission? And you're actually going to the step and saying not only how can we respond to what's going on, but how can we actually participate in moving this forward? The point I'm getting at that I think is so interesting is for Yext to say we're going to make it easier to share and promote sustainability level information to Google, to the world's largest search engine. The impact of that is incredible because now every business in the world, everybody that uses Yext and beyond, is going to be able to have an easy way to share what it is they're doing and the hard work that they've been doing to try to be more sustainable. Every person looking for their next place to eat or hotel to stay in, whatever it might be, is going to have the ability to see and understand and view which businesses are responding to sustainability and are taking part in this stuff and which ones in some cases may not be. And it will influence the way that consumers make decisions. And that can't happen without the connectivity of Yext. And that's actually pretty remarkable as you think about the broad impact that you can create. And so that's what gets me excited about this is, of course, you've got to talk the talk like you've got to be able to do this stuff yourselves, which you all are just totally focused on doing. I love the focus on waste because in the tech world that's a huge deal. But also this idea of taking what you're doing already and moving this forward is going to make your impact monumentally larger, which I think is really cool and it's doing it in a way that only Yext can do it. That's kind of what I love about it. Are you able to share any more details on that of maybe some examples of what sustainability might look like to somebody who's maybe looking for their next hotel to stay in? Do you have any examples of what that might look like?

Neal Booker - 00:10:42:

For sure, that's a great question. In real time, just really understanding how the relatively complex nature of the work that Yext does applies in the real world space. So to your point, if you're thinking about searching for a hotel to stay in, in New York City, perhaps. And you're considering a number of factors and environmentalism is of the utmost importance to you, a simple search based on this company's viability and how forthcoming they are with their sustainable practices and the benefits therein. This may be something that simply pops up in a simple search for them, so you can see the type of products that they source, if they are sustainably focused and a number of other environments or causes that they may be involved in. Simply by utilizing the X feature and ensuring that this information is at the forefront in terms of their listing. And again, we try to make it as easy as possible for our customers to be able to utilize the platform. As you were talking, I was thinking about the difficulty around sustainability and again, the very complex nature and the conversation and how very nuanced each of the companies are. So again, making it as frictionless as possible is of the utmost importance. So something as simple as utilizing a couple of fields to be able to insert this data is as simple as a click of a button here or there. And if that is something that is of the utmost importance to folks like you and I, and that's going to be a determining factor as to whether or not you stay at this particular hotel or utilize this particular company, I would suggest company utilizing that type of platform.

Alex Lassiter - 00:12:33:

That's amazing. It's funny. As you're talking through this, I'm thinking in my head a little bit of kind of like the evolution of search. The first version of Search that I remember was the Yellow Pages, which my high suspicion is most people listening to this podcast aren't going to know exactly what that is. But that was my first search. And obviously, as you've moved on to online and search engines, you're looking into things like location, like, how close is this to me? You might look into opening hours, you might look into menus. I remember when menus were added into Search and you were able to see what somebody would have. You could look at prices, then you could look at reviews, and reviews started to make their way into it. And this is like another evolution of that. That's really exciting because it gives consumers more information about what they do. Does that mean that consumers will only go shop at places that are sustainable? No, it just means that people get choices. And for the history of time, humans have wanted more information about what we purchase and where we purchase it. And I love that Yext has taken this a step further to say, we're going to give you more information to make a decision on the places that you go and the businesses that you frequent. And we're going to help empower the businesses that want to be able to be a part of this change, to share that in ways that are honest and transparent. I think that's amazing. I really think that when you all look back in ten years from now, these are going to be the defining things that helps make this mainstream and help makes it available to people who otherwise would have been afraid of taking that step. Now they can.

Neal Booker - 00:14:01:


Alex Lassiter - 00:14:01:

It's really remarkable.

Neal Booker - 00:14:03:

What's really important from a personal perspective is just being able to have that visibility and knowing that this information is available. And now it may be something, even if it's not at the forefront, that's going to be a consideration as I make decisions moving forward. In a recent study, Google actually conducted 82% of consumers reported sustainability as a top priority.

Alex Lassiter - 00:14:32:


Neal Booker - 00:14:32:

When making purchases .

Alex Lassiter - 00:14:35%4:

82%? That's remarkable.

Neal Booker - 00:14:36:

Right? So customers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious, right? And that's reflected by the trending search terms like recycling, climate change and sustainability. So we want to make sure that we're accounting for this shift in consumer preferences. So even if someone isn't necessarily making that purchasing decision based on that information explicitly, again, as I tie that back to my personal journey, it's something that I'm now considering when purchasing said item. And it's going to be the same moving forward into the future as companies need to ensure that they have some level of accountability as it relates to sustainable practices and waste reduction in general.

Alex Lassiter - 00:15:21:

That's fantastic. Yeah, and I think you're right. I think it's inevitably it's a way that we make decisions and it's a piece of it. And I think what I'm hearing, which is really exciting is this is a decision for the first time in a long time can be good for business too. So what better way is to be able to say hey, we can make decisions that are better for the planet, better for environments, better for our customers, better for employees and it's also a no-brainer business decision to do. And as you start to do those it frees up that ability for business, for for profit businesses to be able to do more of the right things and that's what we want. If you can align those two things together you get a world where people don't have to feel like I'm making a trade-off to get there. They actually invest into it and that aligns those two objectives and that's amazing. Okay, so just take a quick step back a little bit. You're the head of DEI. How does sustainability intertwine with your role.

Neal Booker - 00:16:18:

In DEI, there's a joke that you kind of COVID everything and my job ranges but of course it's not limited to developing company wide DEI programming to supporting our employee resource groups and introducing new programs from a corporate social and responsibility perspective and that's where it really ties into sustainability. More importantly, we have a sustainability ERG which is like mind-blown. And that was honestly one of the key contributors. And key factors to me choosing Yext is because you don't really see that in many places. And knowing that not only is there an ERG, but there is an executive sponsor connected to said ERG, there is budget associated with that. And again, there's a mission statement that's tied to all things sustainability here as well. Where the work really intertwines is through our corporate social responsibility aspect and ensuring that there are spaces for employees of all backgrounds and interests to thrive. And it's really incumbent upon me and us all to challenge where we are and to improve and maximize on those efforts. In addition, as I mentioned, working closely with each of our seven amazing employee resource groups is extremely fun to me and it's something that I take great pride in as I mentioned our sustainability. ERG has done a great job at driving challenges around sustainability, looking to stand up a program and to ensure that we are doing our due-diligence as a business to not only create a space in which folks can be educated around sustainability, but connecting with the local communities as well.

Alex Lassiter - 00:18:10:

Yeah, I think that's amazing and I love the aspect of this isn't just like lip service. You all have sponsors, you have executive sponsors, you have budget, you have full corporate commitment to putting lasting things into place to be able to address these things, not check the box. I'm curious, you mentioned earlier that you're getting a lot of RFPs from people. Meaning when you work with customers or you want to work with customers, they're obviously evaluating the software they need to make sure it works, but they're also evaluating you on other things. What is that about? Can you talk to me about what does that look like? Who are the people that ask that question? How does it come to you? What is the format of it? I guess from your perspective, why do they care?

Neal Booker - 00:18:56:

Why they care, I think is the same reason why we care is because it's important for us to have a sustainable future. Growing up in the 90s, as we've hearkened back to a couple of times on this call, it was just something that was cool. Perhaps if that was something that you were into, businesses obviously weren't prioritizing it. And as we've seen climate change come to the forefront, as we've seen a number of environmental and social impacts play a significant role in our day-to-day discussions, it's now become super important. Businesses are following suit as well. And I can confidently say every request is variably different. So I work closely with our sales teams, our global biddesk team, and a number of other key contributors around the company globally, quite honestly, in sourcing a repository of questions and requests from various companies to really understand how we can operationalize this thing, to ensure that companies are getting the necessary info at first pass instead of needing to piecemeal it. And again, going back to my original point, it's variably different. So right now we're in the midst of filling out our first ecovadis questionnaire survey, which is so vast and covers so much information, which is great for us to do, but a few days before that, someone wanted completely different information in relation to our sustainable corporate practices. So it variably differs, which is fun and challenging all in one, but it challenges us, moreover, to ensure that we are constantly adapting to business request and what the marketplace is telling us. What I've also seen, and I'm sure you probably can attest to it, is that our European contemporaries more so businesses that we are in business with or looking to develop more relationship with are really enthralled in really understanding and wanting to know what our practices are, what our stance is, what type of vendors are we working with, what our goals are moving forward and how we plan to get there. So those are some of the trends that I'm seeing. And this is not specifically tied to one particular industry that we are working with. It spans the gamut, which is fun and exciting to see, quite honestly, because that means that folks at large are paying close attention to this and that we have to all do our part to ensure that we are up to standard.

Alex Lassiter - 00:21:46:

That's interesting and I think it's really exciting to hear that that's happening across many industries and I guess to kind of bring it back, it still feels like the same sort of feeling that people want to know more about what they buy and who they buy it from. And in this case, it's not necessarily the consumer, which obviously Yext is helping with, from the distribution of information out to Google and to every search engine available. But it's also for businesses and where they make business-to-business decisions. If they buy Yext, they buy another product. If they host with one company versus another company, if they source from this supplier versus this supplier, they want to be able to understand more about who they work with because it's important to them, not just in terms of the product, but also the company behind and what they're supporting. And to me it just comes back to this idea of choice and visibility and ability to make these decisions and have transparency. And again, I get more and more excited about what Yext is doing because you've always been at the center of making information available to people. I mean, always it's been about taking the things that we know about our business and getting it out to the people that are searching and finding and looking for solutions or products or locations or retailers or whatever it might be. And I think you all are at a very exciting time to be in the business that you're in and to be as interested and have the support of what you're doing because I think you're going to make a massive impact on all different sides of this and I hope your customers see that. I'm sure that they do.

Neal Booker - 00:23:19:

I totally agree with that and it really is an exciting time. Upon launching our sustainability program and just trying to get things off the ground. You really try to take a look at where you are in comparison to your peer groups, particularly as a software company. Right. I think back to when we initially launched the relationship with GreenPlaces and we were talking with some of your peers and really trying to get an understanding of how do we fit into the broader landscape. Right. We have six physical locations. We were coming off of COVID so there weren't really a lot of business travel decisions being made. But yet we still emitted a number of things out in the atmosphere. So maybe scope one isn't necessarily a priority, so to speak, but scope two and three are also important. And that's something that we learned in having those healthy discussions and really unpacking the ways in which not only we could utilize what we do as a business to influence others, but more so, how we view our own business. Again, we utilize a number of outside services and suppliers and vendors, so taking a number of other steps and peeling back the onion a bit further to ensure that, again, we're doing our due diligence as a company to not only say, I think our hands are clean. Again, we have very limited space. Most of our team members work remotely on these particular days. So I think we're okay. So that deprioritizes some of those factors and again, learning over the past year and change that. Again, we all have a role to play, and if you dig deep enough, you'll figure out ways in which you can significantly change the ways in which you are operating as a business, and more importantly, the things that you can do to help to move the needle forward.

Alex Lassiter - 00:25:22:

What's interesting in COVID, for those of us that were operating or attempting to operate businesses through COVID very quickly realized that we are unbelievably connected to every corner of the Earth. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I remember seeing the outbreak in Wuhan thinking, gosh, it's never going to get here. And it was like weeks. And I thought to myself, if something can travel that quickly to where I am, we cannot disconnect ourselves ever. I mean, there's no turning back. And the analogy to sustainability is the same thing as you mentioned for those of folks that are listening that don't quite know the difference between a Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions. When businesses think about what are the carbon that we produce from turning on the electricity or burning natural gas, that's your direct emissions. Those are your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions is like everything else. It's all the things that wouldn't be here if we weren't here. So it's everything from the computers that we buy to the vendors and service providers that we have. Yext is the Scope 3 of many businesses. They buy Yext Products. Yext is part of their emissions. Google, obviously, from, from data centers, and being a vendor as well is part of our emissions. So we're all connected through this collective use of what we have. And the most dangerous thing, I think, when you think about sustainability is this idea that we feel like we're all on an island and no business is an island, no person is an island. We are all connected in some way, shape or form to what we're all doing, which means everyone has to be included. This problem does not get solved. If it's Delta Airlines rolling their sleeves up and saying, well, we're going to figure out how to do this, it has to be everybody because they're inevitably going to say, well, we wouldn't fly the planes if people didn't buy the tickets. And if everybody buying the tickets said, well, we don't have any physical offices, then Delta says, well then we don't need to worry about our planes either. And the same thing is going to happen on the power plant. It says we burn the coal when somebody turns the light switch on. All of this stuff is linked together and that's why it's just so, so important and so great to hear companies like Yext who as just if you just drill down the business, is a connective tissue of many things between customers and sellers. To be able to realize that and understand it and to invest in it even when maybe your total carbon footprint from direct emission sources, like you said, six offices is not inextricably large, you have both a responsibility and an opportunity to be able to move the needle knowing that you're connected to so many places. And I think that's great and I am excited and hopeful that people listening to this and people thinking about this will see that in their own business and say, okay, well, how can we play a role? How can we actually change things and what can we do that's specific to us that other people can't? Well Neal, I've taken a lot of your time today. I really sincerely appreciate it as one final question. If there was one thing that you wish Yext’s customers or employees knew about Yext's sustainability, what would it be?

Neal Booker - 00:28:35:

Do you have all day?

Alex Lassiter - 00:28:38:

I actually do.

Neal Booker - 00:28:42:

I'd say I'm sorry but I have to answer this a bit multilayered, if you will.

Alex Lassiter - 00:28:48:

That's fair .

Neal Booker - 00:28:49:

Because it’s important. I can start with that. It's important to our business, it's important to our key stakeholders and it's important to our employees. And for one, we encourage our employees to live sustainably both in and out of the office. We support our local communities and we engage with local community environmental efforts. And then we incorporate sustainability at Yext so we identify and implement specific solutions to help Yext operate in a more environmentally and sustainable fashion. And then lastly, utilizing our platform to help others do just the same. So I know that's not one particular thing, but if we're talking about being a connective tissue of sorts, it's very hard to answer that in a simplified manner.

Alex Lassiter - 00:29:50:

Understood. Well, I think you did a great job at it. And Neal, thank you so much for your time today. This is great. I'm really appreciative for you to take some time out of the obviously very busy day to, to speak on this stuff. Thank you for sitting down with us at Open Source Sustainability and hope you have a great day and thank you.

Neal Booker - 00:30:08:

Alex, thank you so much. And I hope we can do this again at some point soon.

Alex Lassiter - 00:30:11: