Salesforce gets back to nature with positive effect

Cath Everett Profile picture for user catheverett April 12, 2023
All too few organizations have been doing much to tackle nature destruction and loss to date, which tends to be overshadowed by the much higher-profile climate change debate. But Salesforce is attempting to blaze a trail here by launching its three-pronged Nature Positive strategy.

New green leaf grows from old tree trunk © captureandcompose - shutterstock
(© captureandcompose - shutterstock)

There is a direct link between the health of nature and that of the global economy.

While nature tends not to be thought of in terms of economic benefits, it actually provides global ecosystem services with an estimated combined value of $125-$140 trillion per year, or about seven times US GDP, according to the European Investment Bank

Tim Christophersen, Vice President of Climate Action at Salesforce, explains the significance of this fact:

If there’s no nature, there’s no economy. Half of the world’s GDP relies on nature, so if we let the health of the biosphere  erode, it’ll have a detrimental effect on the economy, business, our lives. It’s why Salesforce is engaging. It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because over 60% of our customers have material nature impacts and dependencies. A lot of companies are still struggling with Net Zero, which is complex enough, and we all need to do more there. But nature is part of the overall solution package here. It’s not a separate problem – nature and climate are inter-connected.

Christophersen joined Salesforce last May after working for 15 years at the United Nations (UN), where his last post was as the Environment Programme’s Head of Nature. He now heads a team of five, with his remit being to create and operationalize a framework in which to place the company’s previously ad hoc Nature Positive activities and develop a cohesive strategy to dovetail into its Climate Action Plan

As to what taking a Nature Positive approach means, it entails going beyond simply minimizing the impact and limiting the damage of current economic activities. Instead it is about enhancing the resilience of the Earth and society by actively enabling ecosystems at all levels to thrive.

Much-need legislation to get things moving

To this end, members of the UN agreed a new Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022, which among other things requires multinational companies and financial institutions to assess, monitor and disclose their biodiversity-related impacts, risks and dependencies.

At a more regional level, the European Union’s (EU) new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) also came into force earlier this year for 50,000 large and listed companies across the region. They are now required to publish regular reports on their environmental and social impact activities, the aim being to make it easier for stakeholders to evaluate their performance in order to encourage more responsible behaviour.

Such legislation is much needed. All too few organisations have been doing much to tackle nature destruction and loss to date, which tends to be overshadowed by the much higher-profile climate change debate, let alone take Nature Positive action. 

According to a recent report by McKinsey called ‘Where the world’s largest companies stand on nature’, a mere 16% of the Fortune Global 500 have set targets against three or more of the dimensions of nature it explored (climate change; freshwater consumption; chemical and plastic pollution; forest and seabed loss; biodiversity loss and nutrient pollution). Not a single company has set targets against all six.

But one that is attempting to make a difference here is Salesforce. As a result, Christophersen has devised a three-prong strategy to “contribute towards a net zero, nature positive future rooted in people and climate justice”. It involves:

1. Assessing, measuring, managing and reducing the firm’s nature impacts and dependencies 

This entails developing a plan to reduce nature impacts and dependencies on an enterprise-wide basis, which includes in its offices, data centers and the supply chain, by 2025. As part of this process, the company will also spend the next couple of years exploring the Scope three carbon emissions being generated by its supply chain, after having evaluated Scope one and two direct and indirect emissions last year. 

2. Playing a key role in restoring natural ecosystems at scale 

Investments here: 

  • Purchasing one million tons of blue carbon credits by 2025
  • Supporting and mobilizing the conservation, restoration and growth of one trillion trees through, which the firm co-founded, by 2030
  • Distributing $100 million to initiatives and communities through the vendor’s Ecosystem Restoration & Climate Justice Fund by 2023.

But, Christophersen indicates, a key lesson learned in this context so far is that making effective investments in nature-based solutions is harder than it sounds:

If you do tree planting or conservation, there’s no one way to do it perfectly. It depends on the site, and there are as many different ways and approaches of doing it as there are types of forests in the world. But wherever you make investments, it’s always crucial that local people are consulted and are supportive of the proposed solutions. This makes the process lengthy and complex, but it’s important to do it right as there are no shortcuts with nature-based solutions.

3. Accelerating customer activities and supporting the wider Nature Positive movement

Salesforce intends to expand its Net Zero Cloud (NZC) platform, which currently focuses mainly on measuring customers’ carbon emissions and helping to reduce them, to support Nature Positive activity as well. One means of doing so will be to rework its newly-launched Automate ESG Reporting tool, which integrates data from different systems into the NZC platform, to create a broader-based sustainability tool that conforms with the EU’s CSRD regulations.

Another aim is to continue supporting innovation within the so-called ‘ecopreneur’ community via partners, such as UpLink, Echoing Green and Elemental Accelerator, which provide such start-ups with professional expertise, investment capital and other resources.

Furthermore, the vendor is also involved in the pilot phase of the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures risk management reporting framework, which is due to be launched in September.

Such involvement is important, believes Christophersen, because to tackle both the nature and climate crisis will involve governments and organisations across the private, public and third sectors all working together to affect meaningful change. He explains:

It’s the same as if you think about a football match and who the most important player is – is it the goalie, the offense or defence? Really though you can only be successful if everyone plays their part. There’s much blaming of governments, who people say should regulate better. Others say companies should do more. The positive thing though is that things are starting to come together with all the regulation that’s coming down the line. So it’s a clear market signal in terms of biodiversity and the private sector is picking up on the fact that it’s going to have to act more quickly.

My take

Biodiversity and the widespread destruction of natural ecosystems are all too frequently forgotten issues as companies focus on fulfilling their climate change commitments - despite the two crises being so intrinsically interlinked. But hopefully, as the regulatory landscape starts to shift, safeguarding nature may finally receive the attention it both needs and deserves from the private sector, which includes the tech industry.

A grey colored placeholder image