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Learn How Businesses Can Make a Difference

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you'll be able to:

  • State the biggest opportunities for businesses to make substantial, global environmental change.
  • Explain how equality enables systemic change.

At Salesforce, we believe businesses are powerful platforms for social change and can and should step up to protect the planet for future generations. And we’re not alone. Now more than ever, we are seeing companies pledge to tackle challenges in the community and the environment. For example, companies committing to action via the We Mean Business coalition, including Salesforce, now collectively represent more than $35.6 trillion in market cap. And 92 percent of S&P 500 companies are advancing corporate transparency by regularly publishing reports on their goals and progress on environmental initiatives.  

Natural Resources Are Important for Business

Why are businesses leading the charge to protect the environment? It’s because businesses need both human and natural capital to succeed over time. Growing in a financially and environmentally sustainable way makes companies better able to navigate an ever changing world. 

This is nothing new. Businesses have always relied on natural resources. Water wheels powered ancient Roman grain mills, providing food for an entire civilization. Coal-fueled steam engines helped develop our transportation sector. And over time grape harvesting turned into an entire wine industry. Today, the connection between products and the natural environment may feel less obvious but it is still a factor. 

Expectations from Key Stakeholders Are Changing

Investors Want Transparency and Action

The investor community has been pressuring companies to increase transparency and action on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. An example is Blackrock CEO, Larry Fink’s 2018 letter to CEOs. He states: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.” (Read Larry FInk’s letter in the Resources section at the end of this unit.)

“Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.” —Larry Fink, CEO Blackrock

As Salesforce began structuring and accelerating our sustainability education work in FY22, our first priority was to disclose more about our own climate action efforts, which led us to publish our first TCFD Report. The Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework calls for comprehensive disclosures around the impacts of climate change on a business’s governance, strategy, risk and opportunity management, and key metrics and targets related to climate change. We believe this is a foundational context that every organization should disclose and understand. (Read Salesforce’s TCFC report in Resources.) 

Customers Want Ethical Practices

Customers have been increasingly vocal, opting to purchase, and in some cases pay more for, products they can be certain are ethically produced. Organic, fair trade, and locally sourced have become familiar terms for every shopper. Purchases are no longer just transactional; now it’s about where products come from and the customer’s emotional connection to a brand. A study by Cone found that 79 percent of Americans feel a stronger connection to purpose-driven companies over traditional companies. 

Employees Are Drawn to Values

Employers are all competing for top talent. To be successful, we must acknowledge that today’s workforce feels pulled toward companies that have strong values. In fact, 83 percent of Gen Zers consider a company’s purpose when deciding where to work and use it as a core filter in deciding which companies to associate with. While less pronounced, workers in other age groups also feel the same way (55 percent on average in the U.S.). By supporting the health and resilience of the communities in which they operate, businesses are listening to and supporting their stakeholders: their shareholders, customer base, and future workforce. Everyone, including business, benefits from a vibrant and healthy community and society.

Making An Impact

At Salesforce, we’re focused on making the biggest impact possible. We know there are many areas you can expend time and energy on to make a difference, so we’re grateful for organizations and initiatives that have done the hard work in identifying the biggest areas for impact. With help from our friends at Project Drawdown, let’s examine four key areas: energy, food, water, and equality. (Learn more about each of these areas in Resources.)

The biggest opportunities for environmental impact are: energy, food, water, and equality.

Reimagining Our Energy Systems

Human use of energy—particularly in the form of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas—has a profound impact on the environment. Burning fossil fuels, paired with the effects of the clearing of tropical forests and some agricultural practices, releases tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat and lead to more severe weather events and sea level rise around the world. Carbon dioxide, one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases, also dissolves in seawater, contributing to the ocean acidification currently wreaking havoc on marine life like corals and shellfish.

Solar panels and wind turbines are a renewable energy source and demonstrate how modern technology can reimagine our energy systems.

Our homes, schools, workplaces, and transportation systems represent enormous opportunities to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions by using energy more efficiently and shifting to safe, clean, and renewable energy sources.  

Eating Smarter 

What we eat and how we grow our food has a huge impact on the planet’s landscapes, water resources, and climate. For example, agriculture already uses up about 55 percent of our planet’s land area, drives 70 percent of our freshwater withdrawals worldwide, and produces over one-quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing food waste is one of the biggest opportunities for sustainable growth. One third of the food we produce globally is never eaten, lost somewhere in the supply chains between farmers and consumers.

Eating seasonal and local food is a better way to support farmers in your region and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions involved in transportation.

At Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual marquee event, in 2019 we saved 9 million gallons of water by eliminating beef from the menu for attendee lunch service. In addition, Salesforce donates surplus food to local charities whenever possible. 

Protecting Our Fresh Water Systems 

Until recently, Earth’s water flowed naturally, uninterrupted, and without pollution through river networks and groundwater systems connecting land to ocean. Now, humans operate tens of thousands of dams and countless wells that extract water from aquifers. These practices allow us to divert and extract massive amounts of water from their natural flows. This extraction often exceeds nature’s ability to replenish water, leaving behind dried-up aquifers, rivers, and lakes in its wake and causing collapsed fisheries and widespread ecological devastation.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations finds that at a global level, water withdrawal ratios, also known as the amount of water used by a specific industry, are 70% agricultural, 11% municipal, and 19% industrial.

The majority of the world’s water withdrawals (about 70 percent) are used for growing food and animal feed, so reducing food waste and changing our diets are steps in the right direction. Another major way we indirectly consume water is through all of the things we purchase—including new phones, clothes, disposable cups, water bottles, and more. It takes 700 gallons of water just to make your favorite cotton T-shirt! While it’s difficult to control the water used to grow our food and make our stuff, we can think about reducing how much we buy. 

Responsible management is fundamental to ensuring long-term resilience of the world’s most precious resource - water. As our Salesforce Headquarters is located in drought-prone California, we are especially conscious of water conservation. In January 2018, Salesforce installed a blackwater recycling system in Salesforce Tower which is reducing fresh water demand by 7.8 million gallons a year.

Salesforce Tower’s blackwater system is the largest water recycling system in a commercial high-rise building in the United States.

Saving the Oceans 

Our coastlines are under siege from the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels and more powerful storms are shrinking and destroying our beaches. Pollution from fossil fuels is altering ocean chemistry and threatening marine life and whole ecosystems with acidification most seriously affecting gilled marine animals. More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic pollution circulate in the oceans and enter marine food webs. By 2050, plastic in the ocean is expected to outweigh fish in the ocean. The good news is that solutions to these problems are within our grasp. 

A turtle swimming in Ecuador may be swimming with more plastic than fish by 2050.

For example, Salesforce is proud to have collaborated with the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the Global Climate Action Summit to train 40 local middle-school teachers on climate and ocean science. 

Equality Through Climate Justice

Climate justice is a part of environmental justice, and offers opportunities for positive environmental impact. Environmental justice encompasses all toxic contaminants in the environment, while climate justice focuses on facilities that emit carbon dioxide and methane that impact communities of color adversely and disproportionately due to health issues, financial burdens, displacement, and disruption. 

The Benioff TIME Tree Fund, sponsored by Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff, will focus on indigenous and community-based forest management to mitigate the increasing impacts of climate change on the most at-risk communities and natural ecosystems in emerging and developing countries. 

To sum it up, the time is now. The world is waiting. And it’s up to businesses, and all of us, to make a difference.


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