For many private organizations, implementing and delivering on sustainability commitments can feel like navigating uncharted territory. In this Fireside Chat from our 2022 Carbon Markets Summit, we spoke to Suzanne DiBianca, EVP Corporate Relations & Chief Impact Officer at Salesforce, about what it takes to go all in on sustainability targets. Here are our five key takeaways.
Watch the full session here:
1. Core values need to be operationalized
If sustainability is to truly become part of an organization’s mission, it needs to be designed as a core value within the company — and it needs to be embedded into operations. “At Salesforce, we don’t add values often,” says Suzanne. “We’ve had the same three values since we started: trust, customer success, and innovation. Later, we added equality, and shortly thereafter, we added sustainability.”
But a list of values is just the starting point. “When we add a value, we really operationalize it,” Suzanne explains. “It lives all over the company.” Sustainability goals are more effective when they go beyond sustainability teams and reach every department, at every level.
“What I love at Salesforce is that everybody in the company has something on their business plan that addresses our three sustainability goals.”
2. Help yourself before you help others
Salesforce saw that its sustainability work could extend far beyond its own operations — but first, the team knew it was important to hit their own environmental targets internally.
“More than anything, we knew that we had to be excellent in our own operations before we could help our customers with their transitions. We started by setting a science-based target, which was an absolute emissions reduction target: 50% by 2030. Today, we’re powered by 100% renewables, which took us about 3-4 years to achieve. Once we achieved that level of operational excellence within our own company, we asked: What can we do to help customers, and how can we support nature-based offsetting solutions?”
In working towards their own sustainability goals, Salesforce struggled to find the perfect tool for gathering and managing data. “Our superpower is software,” Suzanne says, “so we built something. And we went from spending six months gathering data, to six weeks. We thought this could be a great offering for our customers too, so we packaged it up and put it out in the world.”
Salesforce called the tool Net Zero Cloud; it’s a carbon calculator that also provides education on policy and advocacy in various regions, scenario planning on emissions reductions, supply chain and Scope 3 emissions calculations, and a carbon marketplace made possible through partners like Sylvera. “The goal is to be a central source of truth for your carbon data,” says Suzanne. “We like to think of it as ‘the new CRM’, which stands for ‘carbon relationship management.’”
3. Sustainability pays off — with a long-term perspective
Many executives believe that “green” comes with a high price tag, but Salesforce doesn’t see it this way. “One of the reasons I love working with climate is because, if you do it right, you actually save money over time,” says Suzanne. The key is to stop thinking quarterly, and start thinking long-term.
“Take renewables as an example. I paid to install solar in my home and buy an electric vehicle, but my last electric bill was $5, and I haven’t been to a gas station in three years. The same is true at scale on the corporate level. When we buy into renewable projects and then buy back that energy, it becomes less expensive over time. It’s more expensive on the front end to get, say, the solar or wind farms built, but if you look at the longtail, it actually saves money.”
But optimizing price is only one part of the picture. The quality of your initiatives is crucial to the size of your impact, particularly when it comes to carbon credits and offsets. “If you partner [with offset projects] for the long-term, you can lock in deals at good prices, which will save you money over time — especially right now, when the price of carbon is so variable. If you focus on doing the right thing and take the long view, you’ll benefit both financially, and more importantly, from a sustainability perspective.”
4. When in doubt, prioritize impact
An organization committed to an environmental mission will face hundreds and thousands of decisions along the way. For example, do you offset now, or reduce emissions first? Do you co-finance your own wind farm, or use a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)? Do you support nature-based or technology-based projects?
“At Salesforce, what we think about most importantly is impact — where can we have the most impact with our dollars? Some of the renewable energy projects we’ve done have been in places like West Virginia, which is heavily reliant on coal. What we’re trying to do is help to green the grid, not just for us, but for people in that region. We think a lot about where we can invest that’ll make the most impact to the planet, and not just the most impact to us as a company. We also always look to third party assurance and verification, especially as it relates to additionality in our investments. Sylvera is key for us as it helps us identify top projects”
5. Transparency is the key to change at scale
In the private sector, transparency is key to unlocking more meaningful change. “I’m really excited about what the SEC is doing in the US,” Suzanne explains.
“I’m a huge fan of strict regulatory requirements in data,” says Suzanne. “It’s one thing to say you have a net zero target; it’s another thing to publicly disclose your progress against those targets.” Comprehensive disclosures based on quality, auditable data are what private markets need to move forward. “Whether or not it’s regulated, I think transparency is key.”
Learn more about how Sylvera's ratings can be incorporated into your sustainability strategy here.