COP27 - why Salesforce is among tech giants hitting the accelerator on climate change initiatives

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett November 9, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
Nature Accelerator will take a bet on organizations with great ideas, explains SVP of Philanthropy Naomi Morenzoni.

Salesforce
Naomi Morenzoni

With the COP27 global gathering taking place this week in Egypt, Salesforce is putting $1 million into a Nature Accelerator philanthropic fund aimed at finding and encouraging new ideas to fight climate change. 

The fund will provide non-profits with investment to develop, test and scale climate change programs faster. The objective behind the Nature Accelerator is to shake up the philanthropy model, leading not only to an increase in investments for green projects, but more flexibility over what groups can do with the cash.

According to the ClimateWorks Global Intelligence report, funding for environmental schemes is growing, but still represents a tiny amount of overall philanthropic spending. In 2020, around $6-$10 billion of philanthropic giving was focused on climate change mitigation, accounting for under two percent of a $750 billion overall pot.

However, philanthropic funding for climate change projects is increasing at a faster rate than overall giving, growing 14% compared to three percent respectively from 2019-2020.

Naomi Morenzoni, SVP of Philanthropy at Salesforce, attributes this increase to the sudden urgency of protecting our planet:

For a long time, the impacts of climate change felt a little distant, a slow-moving crisis. The reality is, we feel the impact of climate change today. We have more frequent extreme weather events and we also see the interconnectedness of climate change on things like health and economic opportunity. This is continuing to come to the forefront for corporations, for governments, for funders.

While Morenzoni welcomed the increase in climate mitigation funding, she doesn't believe philanthropy should be a zero sum game:

We shouldn't be pulling from other areas that continue to be critical, we need to grow the overall pie. Philanthropic funding also needs to be smarter. We need to have it used in coordination with other types of capital, private impact investors, public funding to really coordinate and drive that collaborative action that’s needed.

Accelerator

Salesforce Nature Accelerator has been set up to offer flexible capital and wraparound support for non-profits, so they can test out ideas that are going to help scale climate action, she explains: 

Innovation is not easy, and what we wanted to do was create a program that provided dedicated holistic support for these organizations to explore nature-based solutions.

This holistic support comes in the form of philanthropic investments, product donations and pro bono support from a dedicated Salesforce team made up of employees with the relevant skill set.

In this initial pilot phase of the program, Salesforce is giving around $1 million to a small cohort of non-profits. It is currently in the selection phase, and is looking for non-profits working on nature-based solutions across a range of forest and ocean ecosystems, and who are committed to tech and innovation to protect nature. Morenzoni is hoping to have the details of the first cohort coming out later this autumn or early winter:

We're seeing some cool early ideas in the applications, like remote sensing in forests and oceans, but also eco acoustics so you can understand the sound of a healthy biodiverse ecosystem or programs to connect other nature-based solution organizations to each other so they can share information.

While the initial scheme is being funded by Salesforce philanthropic giving and Salesforce technology, the firm is currently talking to additional potential funders, she adds: 

Salesforce's approach is never go at it alone. It takes everyone, especially when we're looking at something like climate change. We really do need to get more organizations in this and the more we can work in collaboration with other accelerators out there, we want to make sure this is all ships coming together to address this.

Bigger picture

As well as collaboration being critical to climate action, Morenzoni believes that philanthropy needs to be better at supporting organizations in their early stage:

Philanthropic funding today often comes with a lot of restrictions and requirements that can make it difficult for an organization to innovate, to scale. When we talk about unrestricted funding, which is what we're providing through the Nature Accelerator, it comes with no strings attached. Organizations can use it for anything they think they need to do. That could be testing a new idea or doing better development work with their employees to grow the health of the organization and their capacity.

From a risk tolerance and innovation standpoint, the counterpart in the business world is the angel investor, she argues: 

They understand that maybe only a small percentage of their investment portfolio is going to be this ‘knock it out of the park’ success, but they're willing to take that bet. We need to cultivate that same risk level in philanthropy.

The Nature Accelerator is rooted in this concept, aiming to identify and give flexible funding to those organizations with a great idea that could drive climate solutions at scale. The philanthropic fund is part of the wider Salesforce Climate Fund, which will invest $100 million over 10 years in key climate initiatives.

This is one of several sustainability and climate change initiatives at Salesforce, including its emissions reduction strategy, restoring 100 million trees by 2030, its carbon credits marketplace, and products like Net Zero Cloud. Alongside the Nature Accelerator, the company also unveiled the Blue Carbon framework to better protect our oceans. (More on this to come from diginomica later this week).

Ahead of COP27, Salesforce Co-CEO Marc Benioff put his name to an open letter calling for governments to work with business leaders to accelerate the transition to net zero. The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders comprises CEOs from large multinational organizations, including Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft and SAP, as well as Salesforce.

When it comes to why a technology company should be so embedded in climate change action, Morenzoni makes the basic point that every business should be in the climate fight:

This impacts our entire world, it impacts our communities. There's no one that should be on the sidelines. That means it’s infused into every part of our business. We are thinking about it across our full value chain, about everything that we can do as a company, from our employees from every position. Whether they're a technologist, whether they work on responsible sourcing, if they sit in the philanthropy team, everyone is making decisions, thinking about how it could potentially impact our world.

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