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Davos 2022 - it's time for an environmental capitalist revolution, says Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 24, 2022
Tech entrepreneurs, such as Salesforce co-founder Benioff, now need to lend their support to a new breed of ecopreneur for the greater good of us all.

Marc Benioff

I am ready for a new environmental capitalism.

So said Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff on a day when the rise of the ecopreneur took center stage at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. Benioff declared: 

I'm demanding a new environmental capitalism for myself….My company, Salesforce, which is now 75,000 people based in San Francisco, must be net zero.  But it also means that every company here at the Forum must be net zero and fully renewable. We have no choice. We must create a net zero world.

It's one of the reasons why the First Movers Coalition is so important. We announced that we are going to provide $100 million of capability to extend our net zero status. I hope that every company will join us. It means that not only do we have to be net zero and fully renewable.

Founded in 2021, the First Movers Coalition brings together companies across multiple industrial sectors to coordinate the creation of demand for emerging reduced-CO2 production technologies.

Attached to this aim, as articulated by Benioff, is a push to enable and energize a new ecopreneur revolution:

We see these technologies  and so many young people here today, who are building new companies. Maybe they were like me, entrepreneurs, but now they are ecopreneurs focused on the environment….We need this kind of next generation of innovation.

So I'm ready for a new environmental capitalism. Salesforce will this year become the third largest software company in the world. And as we enter the Fortune 500,  we're doing it as net zero. I hope that it motivates every company here to do that as well.

It’s a revolution underway, he added:

The number of entrepreneurs who are starting new companies in Silicon Valley, where I'm from, it's estimated that 25% of all new companies are focused on environmental solutions. And while valuations might be resetting in this kind of environment, you can see now that this is still going to be an opportunity, because there's so much capital that can be deployed by investors in this incredible new sector. You're seeing solutions that are going to deliver tremendous returns - and already have - to the investment community. So I think it's actually going to be a very positive environment.

And there's precedent close to home here, he noted: 

Great companies are born in recessions. Salesforce was born in 2001 in a recession, and I expect a lot of these ecopreneurs will be born in this recession as well.

Uplink impact 

The revolution is here to stay, agreed Punit Renjen, Global Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte:

We talk a lot about technological innovation and that will play a critical role, but nature-based solutions, which are community-oriented and are less costly, are equally important. I think that is going to play a critical role.

As for why this matters to a global giant like Deloitte, there's a reason for Renjen's firm to have a focus here: 

 Why I do this is I have 400,000 professionals. Eighty-six percent of them are Millennials and Gen Z’s. Invariably, they ask me, ‘What does Deloitte do beyond its core profit motive?’…If we don't have a credible response within the organization and within our communities, we're not going to hire the very best individuals and we're definitely not going to retain them.

For its part, a notable sign of Deloitte's commitment to change was its partnering with WEF and Salesforce to launch Uplink, pitched as “an open platform to scale up bright ideas the world needs”. It's an initiative that has delivered significant benefits since launch in 2020, said Renjen:

Let me give you some numbers in terms of what Uplink has been able to achieve. One billion dollars in funding for the innovators; 16 million people provided with access to essential health services; 10 million people who’ve increase their income through Uplink;  2.8 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions reduced.

One reason why we started Uplink was to bridge the disconnect that exists between innovators, ecopreneurs and access to resources and capital and to upgrade that bridge. But what we didn't imagine was the impact that Uplink would have for established entities like Deloitte. I think it has had a tremendous impact. It's certainly identified innovators and ecopreneurs

He added: 

What we did with Uplink was we launched a challenge to help us bridge the gap between what we were trying to do in impacting the 100 million people. We identified a number of ecopreneurs that we have now sponsored. They've been with us for a year and the impact that they're having is unimaginable.

So Uplink is not only helping bring ecopreneurs to come and help address problems that we face, it has actually enabled a large established organization like Deloitte

My take

No-one is against a tree, quipped Benioff as he again pitched the initiative, a campaign to re-forest the planet. The evolution from tech entrepreneur to ecopreneur - to aquapreneuer, as another speaker put it - is a fascinating one. Companies such as Salesforce and Deloitte are commendably taking a lead in fostering this new revolution and their examples should ideally be inspiring others to follow suit.  Another speaker made the point that "return on nature takes time". That's correct and the short-termism of Wall Street and some in the investment community is always going to be an issue here. But this is a long game that needs to be played out and played to win. 

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