Salesforce CIO explains the company’s net zero push





We talk a lot about problematic net zero commitments: those without intermediate targets, or Scope 3 commitments or executive responsibility. But there are some companies that are a little (or a lot) more right than others. Salesforce has one of the better ones.

The company has prioritized immediacy in its approach to net zero, claiming to have reached the goal in its value chain last September. It did that, in part by relying on carbon offsets, and it plans to go much further in the coming years. Salesforce has said it will cut its absolute emissions — that is, reducing greenhouse gases rather than offsetting them — by 50% by 2030 and nearly zero emissions by 2040. Zero Cloud — that helps its customers monitor their own climate progress. With the software, the days of tracking every gigawatt hour of electricity and tons of carbon dioxide consumed on a bloated spreadsheet are over.

On Tuesday, I attended the Salesforce Net Zero Summit, where tech executives explained their net zero plans. While there, I sat down with Suzanne DiBianca, the company’s chief impact officer, to talk about Salesforce’s climate ambitions. Below is our chat, edited for brevity and clarity.

Can you broadly walk me through Salesforce’s net-zero strategy and how you reached net-zero in your value chain last year?

First of all, we had to start with operational excellence. We had to have a clear strategy for achieving renewable energy sources. So I focused on operations for the first two years, and then we started saying, “How do we accelerate?” Because all these commitments for 2040 and 2050 are overdue and we need to move faster. I feel really passionate about acceleration for us, and for all industries.

That is why we have drawn up a supplier contract. With procurement, we went to all our suppliers and said you have to set a science-based target within three years. These were mostly data centers, as we don’t have our own data centers like Google or Amazon.

And what are the challenges of getting there together with your suppliers?

First of all, there is the issue of measuring emissions. It’s easier to measure your own real estate, your own business trips, your own utility bill. That’s step one. And we have a tool that we use with suppliers where you can merge the data and reuse it for other customers. For example, if an Amazon data center consumes X megawatts, we now have a pretty good formula for converting that into our own Scope 3 emissions. And the good news is, many of them now also have science-backed targets, mostly 2030 or 2040. So there’s a circular dynamic where we’re all pushing each other to cut emissions.

And so far we have had little resistance. We’ve had a lot of questions like “How do I do this?” – which is actually good timing as we launched the Net Zero Cloud tool that can really help them. What we did get was a big thank you from Chief Sustainability Officers who have been trying to make this happen for a while.

Can you tell me a bit more about the Net Zero Cloud? How does it work and what are some of its uses?

We built it because we needed it. Typical Salesforce. This is a data problem, where most companies manage their emissions in spreadsheets, which are 2000 rows long. My team built something in Salesforce in a fairly ad hoc way. We had a small product and we put it on our app marketplace for free. And we had a few new customers, and then everything changed. The pandemic struck, the IPCC report was released, the sky turned orange, the youth movement got really critical.

The moment was there, so we grabbed it and made the Net Zero Cloud part of our core products. We just turned on the tap. And now we’ve done supplier engagement, we’ve done what-if analyses, we’ve done water, we’re doing waste now. We’re super excited about a carbon marketplace to connect with 1t.org’s efforts where you can essentially trade your carbon within the marketplace and product. That will be out this fall.

Of course, you can only do so much by switching purely to renewable energy sources. How much do you rely on offsets and how do they function as part of business strategy?

We are big fans of nature-based solutions, especially through conservation. It is much more than carbon sequestration; there are so many benefits in terms of biodiversity and economic development. I am so lucky to have this team that is really focused on the quality of offsets and additionality. You hear these tragic stories about investing in tree nurseries, and then they are cut down over a certain number of years and the carbon is stored in wood. Either they burned down in Northern California, or there’s a flood. So you have to take into account some loss.

As far as how compensations? [fit] in our strategy: For me, the litmus test of a net zero commitment is whether a company has an absolute emissions reduction target. And we do. So the compensation is actually reduced over time because there is less to compensate. Salesforce’s goal is to reduce total emissions by 50% by 2030, which is aggressive, and especially aggressive for a growing business as we make acquisitions. It really requires us to think differently about how we do our work and who we work with.




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