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Jamila Yamani, Salesforce Director of Climate Innovation and Energy Transition - "It matters where we spend our money, what food we choose to eat, how we choose to get around"

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett April 23, 2024
Summary:
Salesforce is looking for ways to shift climate innovation to regions most impacted like Africa and South America.

Salesforce
Jamila Yamani

Salesforce already has a broad range of climate-friendly schemes in place, including Distributed Renewable Energy Certificates (D-RECs), aimed at de-carbonizing areas most impacted by climate change; its work with The First Movers Coalition, like the Sustainable Aviation Challenge, to support hard to abate sectors like cement, steel and aviation shift to clean energy; and improving equitable access to technology through funds like the AI for Impact accelerator. 

This year and beyond, the firm is broadening out its work to include grid de-carbonization, global equity, and responding to the new SEC rules on climate disclosures. 

Along with General Motors, Meta and Walmart, among others, Salesforce is part of the ZEROgrid initiative, aimed at decarbonizing the power grid. Jamila Yamani, Director, Climate Innovation and Energy Transition at Salesforce, says:

It’s focused on the impact of corporates beyond renewable energy purchasing, supporting global de-carbonization through an infrastructure that can support renewables.

Salesforce is also looking at global equity beyond the way it’s traditionally defined. Yamani notes that much of the innovation around climate and clean energy centers around Europe and North America. To reach global de-carbonization, those technologies need to be developed and adopted throughout the world, including South America, Africa and parts of Asia. Yamani explains: 

One of the challenges with global equity is one size does not fit all. Innovation that happens in the US or in Europe may not be appropriate for regions in Singapore or Australia or Sao Pao or Nairobi.

Innovation 

Instead, innovation has to happen from within, meaning sustainable aviation fuel or green steel is built in the local region and a local supply chain is developed around that. Yamani says:

Take Nairobi for an example. How can we help establish one new sustainable aviation fuel plant in that country, de-carbonizing that region's footprint? When we start to talk about it in those terms, then ways that Salesforce can play a role start to become more clear, whether it's through policy, partnerships or coalitions, our customers or directly with our own dollars.

Once a clean energy project is set up in somewhere like Nairobi, Salesforce can take learnings from that innovation ecosystem to others with a similar demographic or geography to that particular region. How to support this innovation region by region is something Salesforce is exploring. Yamani notes:

There are some places that are better suited for Salesforce because we have a footprint there, but that's not limited, we have the ability and the interest in extending that beyond.

Along with grid de-carbonization and global equity, the recent SEC ruling on climate disclosure requirements is now a really big focus area for Salesforce and many other companies, according to Yamani. 

The SEC rules require organizations to report climate-related data and greenhouse gas emissions as part of their annual reports and SEC filings. As Brian Sommer outlined in his excellent analysis of the new SEC rules:

Companies will need to track their consumption, recovery and remediation efforts involved in the use of carbon-based items. This would include energy consumption, transportation, de-carbonization, carbon entombing, and other activities. Firms can also report on carbon offsets, too.

While the rules cover Scope 1 and 2 emissions (respectively, emissions directly from an organisation, and those it causes indirectly from where the energy it purchases and uses is produced) the SEC dropped the original draft requirement to report on Scope 3 emissions – those from upstream and downstream activities in their value chains. 

This led to some criticism of the final version, especially as Scope 3 emissions typically represent the majority of a company’s carbon footprint, rising to 90% in the oil and gas sector.

Charles Slidders, Senior Attorney for Financial Strategies at the Center for International Environmental Law, said without Scope 3 requirements, the ruling is anaemic and far weaker than what’s needed to protect investors and the public from climate risk.

Hannah Simons, Head of Sustainability at Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets, described the scaling back of Scope 3 as disappointing, letting companies continue to be silent on core factors that contribute to climate pollution and making it hard for investors to access the critical information needed to make informed choices about financial risk.

Yamani, meanwhile, view the SEC ruling as a good starting point. 

We are changing the model in the way companies engage and talk about the environment. More ambitious and more aggressive maybe would be better in many cases, but from my own personal perspective, we have to start somewhere. We have to get all companies talking about this particular topic. if this is the way that we can do that, that's a great first step.

Shifting

One of the ways to help advance climate-related requirements is to shift from a risk mitigation approach – where the focus is on how to minimize the bad firms are doing – to also viewing the climate transition and sustainability work as an opportunity for business. Yamani explains:

There is a huge amount of investment and global GDP that can come from climate in the form of ROI and growth and jobs. If we start to look at it from that lens, it takes away some of the disciplinary of what we're trying to do. That's not the only goal. It should be focused on both the risks and the opportunities that this moment offers us.

Shifting the focus to be more on the positive opportunities can’t come fast enough for the planet. Globally, 2023 was the warmest year on record, and the tenth year in succession that equalled or exceeded 1.0 degree above the pre-industrial period. Is there still reason to feel hopeful about the climate crisis? 

Yes, according to Yamani. Even though last year was the warmest on record, the amount of expected warming has decreased over the last several years since people have mobilized, she notes. 

We have a long way to go to get to 1.5, but we have made progress. Do we need to move faster? A hundred percent, absolutely we need to move faster. Do we need everybody on board? Yes. This type of SEC ruling might be one way to get more people on board and continue our work faster with everyone. I'm hopeful we can continue to do that, especially as we start focusing on some of the opportunities that this transition has to offer us, not limited to just the risks.

And let’s not forget the role we all play as individuals, outside of what governments, businesses and industry sectors are doing. Yamani notes that half of global emission reduction is going to come from individuals’ choices. She reminds us:

We should not lose sight of that. It matters where we spend our money, what food we choose to eat, how we choose to get around.

 

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