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.
  • Understand 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 We Mean Business, including Salesforce, now collectively represent more than $24.8 trillion in market cap. And 85 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 somehow grape harvesting turned into an entire wine industry. Today, the connection between products and the natural environment may feel less obvious. (Did you know that binge watching online TV also has an environmental impact?)

Global greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector indicate that human activity takes a toll on the environment. Moreover, specific industries that enable our modern way of living, such as electricity and heat production and agricultural land use, account for almost 50% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Expectations from Key Stakeholders Are Also Changing


The investor community has been pressuring companies to increase transparency and action on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. The latest example is Blackrock CEO, Larry Fink’s 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.” 

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

That’s why Salesforce signed onto the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures to increase transparency and provide information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders. One example of this commitment is the annual release of Salesforce’s Stakeholder Impact Report.  


Customers too 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, local, and so on, 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 no different. We’re 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 US average). 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 Planet Vision and Project Drawdown, let’s examine four key areas: energy, food, water, and equality. 

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 in Lincoln, Nebraska, 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.  

At Salesforce, we are proud to deliver a carbon neutral cloud and operate as a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions company. We are committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by FY2022.

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

At Dreamforce 2019, Salesforce saved 9 million gallons of water by eliminating beef from the menu for attendee lunch service. In addition, Salesforce donated leftover 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 as well as 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 water management is fundamental to ensuring long-term resilience of the world’s most precious resource - water. Many of the areas we operate in are likely to experience increased water stress in the future because of the effects of climate change. That’s why we have focused on tracking, analyzing and reducing our water footprint across our operations. But the journey doesn’t stop there. By signing on to We Mean Business’ Improve Water Security pledge, Salesforce has committed to the ongoing journey of responsible water management. 

As our Salesforce Headquarters is located in California, we are especially conscious of water conservation in this region. The severe five-year drought in California between 2012 and 2016 was the driest and hottest on record, impacting cities and residents alike. The state’s agriculture industry took a huge hit during this time as one of the world’s most precious resources—water—was drastically affected. We know that times of drought will one day return to this region. In January 2018, we announced that Salesforce will install a blackwater recycling system in Salesforce Tower which will reduce fresh water demand by 7.8 million gallons a year, helping the city of San Francisco and the community.

Salesforce Tower’s blackwater system is the largest commercial 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.

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

The good news is that solutions to these problems are within our grasp. 

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, enabling them to better teach these topics to their students. 

Cultivating Equality

Equal opportunities in education lay a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It’s also one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. According to Project Drawdown, women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of natural resources and have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Girls in school are key to environmental sustainability and equality.

Sadly, there are currently economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. Supporting initiatives that promote equal access to basic education represents a huge opportunity to curb population growth and reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions. 

At Salesforce, equality is a core tenet of how we run our business. We believe that every child deserves a world-class education. That’s why over the past 21 years, we’ve provided more than  $90 million to schools around the world to advance equal and quality education. 

The time is now. The world is waiting. And it’s up to us to make a difference.