Salesforce seeks competitive edge with its climate and nature action

| Interview

Although Salesforce is cloud based, it aspires to keep its feet on the ground. Recognizing that action on climate and nature are vital for a sustainable future, Salesforce has made them a business priority. Its sustainability work spans six areas: emissions reduction; carbon removal; ecosystem restoration; education and mobilization; innovation; and regulation and policy. The company reported in 2023 that it had achieved 100 percent renewable energy across its value chain, while it aims to reduce its Scopes 1, 2, and 3 absolute emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and to near zero by 2050.

In an interview with McKinsey’s Tony Hansen, Tim Christophersen discusses Salesforce’s Climate Action Plan, as well as its Nature Positive Strategy that enables the company to measure, manage, and reduce the impact of its business on nature. With the knowledge gained from these initiatives, Salesforce aims to support its customers and stakeholders to accelerate their sustainability journeys.

McKinsey: What have you learned in your work toward net zero and what advice can you give companies pursuing similar goals?

Tim Christophersen: Sustainability is one of our core values, and making meaningful progress toward net zero requires the full power of the company to be behind the shift. Throughout our sustainability journey, we have published learning modules and resources to guide people working at other companies as they build and scale integrated climate and nature programs. We’ve learned that collaboration can lead to impact at scale and enable cost-effective, high-quality work that brings others along. Investing in high-quality, nature-based solutions has substantial returns for business and society, and we must remain focused on building integrity into decision making.

The ongoing transition is enabling us to develop more impactful relationships with our customers. The climate conversation is shifting from setting targets to collaborating on meaningful action, so we’re excited to continue closely partnering with organizations as we work through the “how” of significant emissions reduction strategies, whether that’s the energy transition, carbon removal, or nature restoration. We have, for example, cofounded the trillion trees initiative, (which serves the global movement to conserve, restore, and grow a trillion trees by 2030 and, to date, has brought together over 100 businesses), and the Business Alliance on Scaling Climate Solutions. We have also joined platforms such as the First Movers Coalition, which pools members’ commitments toward clean technologies into the kind of large-scale demand needed to accelerate decarbonization.

McKinsey: Part of your approach to sustainability is to seek to influence both governments and the public sector to accelerate the transition to net zero and limit warming to 1.5°C. Can you tell us some specific accomplishments?

Tim Christophersen: The right regulatory environment is important to ensure that businesses step up to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. Advocacy is part of Salesforce’s public policy platform and our work is guided by our Climate and Nature Policy principles. A recent example of our engagement is the Nature Restoration Law debate in the European Union, a law that is critical for setting in place the necessary policy framework to restore nature in Europe. In alignment with our principles focused on scaling nature-based solutions, we have joined other companies to advocate for the importance of this legislation. We published a joint op-ed with Danone, Nestlé, and VELUX; engaged with parliament members at an EU Parliament session in May 2023; and signed joint business statements, including those coordinated by WWF and Business For Nature.1 And, in advance of the global Biodiversity Summit in 2022 (COP15), we joined Business for Nature and other leading companies in successfully calling on world leaders to require organizations to address and disclose nature-related dependencies.

McKinsey: In April 2023, you announced a Nature Positive Strategy, which seeks to reduce Salesforce’s impacts on nature across its value chain. What have been the biggest hurdles and successes?

Tim Christophersen: Publishing the Nature Positive Strategy was an important milestone for Salesforce. While we were already doing work around climate and nature, this was an important step to demonstrate our holistic approach to these interlinked challenges. To develop a new strategy isn’t always easy. We performed benchmarking, interviewed stakeholders, undertook rigorous prioritization exercises, and assessed our own impacts to ensure that we were not only accounting for risks but also identifying opportunities. While I wouldn’t describe that work as a “hurdle,” we made sure to spend sufficient time with internal stakeholders to build up their knowledge around nature topics in the same way we did with addressing climate issues a few years ago. We also joined the pilot phase of the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), which was helpful in terms of providing us with a stronger understanding of Salesforce’s specific nature-related impacts, dependencies, risks, and opportunities. What has been most rewarding so far is the positive feedback we have received from other companies telling us they are encouraged to accelerate their efforts.

The net-zero transition and nature-positive movements are also about value creation and bringing the private sector’s ingenuity to drive solutions for climate and nature.

Tim Christophersen

McKinsey: Nature restoration is a major part of what you are setting out to achieve through your strategy. What is the business case and how are you going about this?

Tim Christophersen: Our economy is dependent on nature—whether in its role as a carbon sink or as a provider of raw materials. To achieve our climate commitments, we need healthy and intact nature, which is why we have prioritized investing into nature restoration. A critical avenue through which we support both our climate and nature commitments is via The platform is driving systems change by mobilizing multistakeholder partnerships in key regions and supporting innovation on the ground. To date, over 100 companies have pledged to conserve, restore, and grow more than 12 billion trees in over 65 countries. Salesforce has pledged to fund the conservation, restoration, and growth of 100 million trees by 2030. Last year we added new partners and projects, funding a cumulative total of 52 million trees to date. We have funded 29 projects in 13 countries that support people and trees, for example, in urban Texas, at a refugee camp in Uganda, and at ten schools in Gurgaon, India. We also support the UN World Restoration Flagships, such as the Atlantic Forest in

McKinsey: What barriers prevent some of your customers from moving forward with a nature strategy? What lessons can you share from your experience?

Tim Christophersen: For many of our customers, assessing or managing nature-related issues has not been a priority. However, that’s changing due to regulation, stakeholder pressure, and the nature-positive movement. On the other hand, there are industries that have focused on this area for a while. For those that may have less developed nature strategies, plenty of resources and guidance are now available. Our customers often say that capacity and resources are a challenge, so we have embedded our nature efforts into our climate approach to create synergies within the company. For example, we have committed to purchase 1 million tons of high-quality blue carbon from restoration efforts in mangroves or other marine ecosystems that are critical both for climate mitigation and resilience. As it is challenging to find sufficient supply of high-quality blue carbon, we have committed philanthropic funding to a global collective effort called the Mangrove Breakthrough, which will improve the enabling conditions for blue carbon projects for interested investors.

McKinsey: Salesforce has hundreds of thousands of customers. How do you plan to integrate climate and nature into your product offerings to create greater value for customers?

Tim Christophersen: We believe that every organization has its core competencies to drive climate action at scale. For Salesforce, it’s putting technology into the hands of customers to help them navigate the future successfully. That’s why we built Net Zero Cloud, an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) management platform designed to help organizations manage their environmental footprint and track their progress to net zero. Today, we’re enabling organizations like AT&T, Clif Bar, Mastercard, and others to accelerate their sustainability journeys.

Looking ahead, and given our vast range of customers, we see the opportunity to support them on their nature-positive journeys by providing them with tools to identify, manage, and report on their nature-related risks, impacts, and dependencies. We have forged partnerships with leading biodiversity consulting firms and data providers to create innovative nature assessment and disclosure solutions tailored for large companies, including a new Nature Tech Alliance with Environmental Resources Management (ERM), Planet, and NatureMetrics.3

McKinsey: How can a climate and nature strategy be turned into a competitive advantage for Salesforce and its customers? Please share examples.

Tim Christophersen: Integrating climate and nature into business decision making goes beyond managing risks and costs. The net-zero transition and nature-positive movements are also about value creation and bringing the private sector’s ingenuity to drive solutions for climate and nature. The transition presents substantial opportunities to develop new products, services, and technologies, as well as to work with our employees, customers, communities, and partners in new and better ways. Being a sustainability leader with ambitious commitments and measurable targets also helps us to attract and retain top talent.

McKinsey: What actions can corporations take now to help build a net-zero and nature-positive economy?

Tim Christophersen: Every company or organization must reduce its emissions and make the necessary transition to a net-zero, nature-positive future. Salesforce products run on cloud infrastructure, and this category comprises most of our emissions. To reduce emissions, we focus on increasing operational efficiency while collaborating with our public cloud suppliers to optimize our deployment. Since 2021, we have cut carbon emissions by more than a quarter while delivering our services and invested in solutions to help reduce, remove, and compensate for these emissions.4 On an annual basis, we procure renewable energy equivalent to the amount of electricity we have used globally. We also purchase high-quality and high-integrity carbon credits, equivalent to our remaining emissions, every year.

Each of us must play a role in the collective journey to limit warming to 1.5°C. Governments, businesses, investors, civil society, and individuals need to take bold climate actions while together building momentum. Companies have an important role to play in advocating for climate policies that align with the pace of change needed to limit the impacts of climate change and nature loss.

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