By Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer and EVP of Corporate Relations, Salesforce
“This is not a climate negotiation summit. You don’t negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit,” proclaimed the United Nations Secretary-General in his opening speech at the UN Climate Action Summit.
This sentiment deeply resonated throughout the week as world leaders, CEOs, government officials, business leaders, global investors, and young entrepreneurs gathered in NYC for the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week NYC 2019 to declare commitments to sustainability and climate action and call for climate optimism. The kind of optimism that turns righteous anger and impatience into action.
If we’re going to beat the worst consequences of a changing climate, we need to move from words to action and take a multi-stakeholder approach— businesses alongside government and nonprofit agencies have to work together.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have created a nonpartisan, non-political blueprint that allows all sectors to collaborate with each other in a focused way. At Salesforce, our global strategy is guided in large part by the SDGs and will help us create a positive impact on our communities and the planet.
BUSINESS AS A PLATFORM FOR CHANGE
Now more than ever, it is of vital importance for businesses to become climate advocates. We’re facing down irreparable harm to our planet, so we need all businesses to use not only their influence but also their core competencies and rapid innovation to create solutions that will tackle climate change.
At Salesforce, the environment is a key stakeholder. We are focused on creating a sustainable, low-carbon future as we drive towards our Step Up Declaration commitments, deliver a carbon-neutral cloud for all customers and aim to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2022 through The Climate Group’s RE100 initiative.
Last month, we launched Salesforce Sustainability Cloud—a new carbon accounting product for businesses to drive climate action that will accelerate the world’s efforts towards carbon neutrality. Our goal is to bring the full power of the Salesforce platform to create technology that drives positive impact, and propels forward the SDGs.
And while the pressure builds on all businesses to become more sustainable -- to adapt their supply chains to address carbon emission goals, manufacture with sustainable products or meet fair labor practices, technology innovations like blockchain and artificial intelligence can help power this work further and faster. Blockchain is a game-changer for transparency and responsibility in the supply chain, and AI can help companies address environmental issues more intelligently and act more quickly.
These technologies, along with all of our involvement, are part of the solution we need.
DRIVING CHANGE TOGETHER
We saw some powerful new ideas come from young entrepreneurs at the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit. Young leaders from around the world stood on stage to deliver remarkable technology innovations, such as offering an alternative to data centers with a new type of organic cloud that emits oxygen rather than CO2, and an app for farmers to prevent crop failures and achieve 3x higher grain production annually. These young people are driving a movement and giving us climate optimism. They are inspiring business leaders around the world to not just speak up and make commitments but to take real action. Action the planet will actually notice.
Nearly 1,000 companies globally have joined We Mean Business, a global nonprofit coalition working with the world’s most influential businesses to take action on climate change, and over 670 companies are taking science-based climate action. Businesses are also acting through The Climate Group’s RE100, EV100 and EP100 initiatives, with members including multinationals across every major sector, representing a combined revenue of US$5.5 trillion.
During Climate Week NYC, 87 major companies aligned to commit to set climate targets across their operations and value chains aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
This is just the beginning - we all have more to give, more to do and more to contribute.
CLIMATE ACTION TODAY
When we look back on this year, I am optimistic that we’ll recognize 2019 as the year that public perception of the climate crisis changed. The year we no longer talked about it as an abstraction that would manifest itself in another lifetime. It’s here now.
We must include climate action in every conversation, every business relationship-- and yes even every contract.
We all have a role to play, based on our unique skills, resources and core competencies -- I challenge you; what can you do with what you have in your toolbox to deliver impact that planet Earth might actually notice?
Let’s use today and every day hereafter to push further, faster, together for climate optimism.
The time is now. Join us.
We are thrilled to be this year’s Headline Sponsor at Climate Week NYC. As a pinnacle year in climate activism, we look forward to the future in seeing more companies act and increase climate optimism for all.
The Exelon Foundation and Exelon Corp., the nation’s largest generator of carbon-free energy and the only Fortune 100 electric and gas utility, recently launched a $20 million Climate Change Investment Initiative (2c2i) to fund startups working on new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.
The initiative was formally announced at The Climate Group’s “Building Futures” Climate Week NYC 2019 forum last month -- where attendees explored how smart technologies can cut the carbon footprint of buildings.
“Buildings generate about 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so even small improvements in the energy efficiency of residential and commercial structures can make a big difference,” said Val Jensen, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Policy of Exelon Utilities, who delivered the keynote address at the “Building Futures” forum.
“Our Pepco electric utility in Washington, D.C., for example, just rolled out Smart Home kits for customers to remotely control their highest energy-consuming appliances,” said Jensen. “Similarly, our new Energy Savings for Business initiative helps businesses ‘re-tune’ buildings to correct operational and structural issues that waste energy, such as installing so-called ‘smart’ thermostats that adjust temperatures automatically based on occupancy levels.”
The new Climate Change Investment Initiative is Exelon’s latest effort to spur the ongoing transition to a clean, next-generation energy grid, utilizing the concept of “philanthropic-impact investing” to generate financial return and cut carbon emissions to stem climate change.
The Exelon Foundation will contribute $10 million over the next decade to fund the initiative, which will focus on clean-energy and environmental technologies with potential for wide-scale commercialization. Exelon Corp. will match that grant with up to $10 million in pro-bono services, including mentoring entrepreneurs on ways to access capital, structure business plans, allocate financial resources and meet regulatory requirements. The selected grant recipients also will be able to tap the company’s innovation programs – Exelorate Growth, Constellation Technology Ventures and Partnership R&D – for counsel.
“Exelon stands with the vast majority of our customers who want cleaner air and affordable, reliable energy,” said Chris Crane, Exelon CEO. “With recent advances in technology, these objectives are no longer mutually exclusive. The Exelon Foundation Climate Change Investment Initiative will put us a step closer to a clean-energy future by helping entrepreneurs translate their ideas for reversing climate change into practical solutions.”
Exelon will give special consideration to minority- and women-owned businesses, though encourages all applicants that meet the following criteria to apply:
Their technologies potentially benefit at least one of Exelon’s urban markets: Atlantic City, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., or Wilmington, Delaware. Their innovations must either mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; boost urban infrastructure resiliency; or help cities, businesses and communities adapt to climate change and reach specific sustainability and climate goals.
The 2c2i launch coincided with Exelon’s first day of trading on the Nasdaq stock market, home to many of the world’s leading innovative companies. Just as Exelon is committed to eliminating carbon emissions from power generation, Nasdaq is optimizing its facilities footprint to cut energy use and preserve resources. Nasdaq’s MarketSite in Times Square, for example, became carbon neutral in 2018, offsetting the power it uses with wind power credits.
The new Climate Change Investment Initiative comes as hundreds of state, municipal and local entities are working to cut carbon emissions, boost infrastructure resiliency and better adapt to climate change by improving the energy efficiency of buildings, electrifying the transportation sector and expanding renewable energy penetration, among other actions.
Many markets in Exelon’s service territory are setting ambitious clean energy goals. Illinois, for example, wants 25 percent of its energy needs to come from renewable sources by 2025, while Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia are aiming for 100 percent renewable energy by 2032 and 2035, respectively. Reaching these goals will create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market.
Exelon serves the largest number of electricity and natural gas customers in the U.S, with 10 million customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
A Gold Sponsor for this year’s Climate Week NYC, we were pleased to have Exelon join us for the Building Futures event and to have their Senior Vice President, Strategy and Policy, Val Jensen as the Keynote Speaker, who highlighted the importance of innovation in the industry to catalyze action.
Exelon expects to announce its first funded class of entrepreneurs after the first of the year. For more information visit www.exelonfoundation.com.
By Ryan Wilkins, Founder & CEO, Raw London
Raw London CEO & founder Ryan Wilkins speaks to 6 leaders in the global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability space on why businesses need to be clearer and shout louder about where their morals lie.
A big takeaway from the dozens of presentations and debates I attended at Cannes Lions this year was that the most successful brands are those that are forward-looking and sustainable, and align their purpose with their business strategy. Crucially, these brands communicate their purpose creatively and coherently, demonstrating how it is delivered through CSR and sustainability initiatives in a way that aligns with the beliefs and world view of their consumers, fans, stakeholders and employees.
Why are they investing heavily in positioning themselves in this way? For the next generation of consumers (and an increasing percentage of us today), price is no longer a key determining purchase factor. In fact, quite the opposite is true; super-low prices are beginning to ring alarm bells with consumers who increasingly question which resource, individual or community has been abused in order to deliver the cut-price garment, plastic toy or beauty product in their hand.
As the climate emergency heightens and levels of trust in government diminishes, younger generations have largely realized that the responsibility for turning things around sits with them. In response, they’re looking toward their favorite brands and business leaders to step up.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Since the end of WW2, Western shopping culture has been driven by value and convenience - both have made us buy more and waste more. Until recently, consumers spent little time considering the moral disposition of the corporation producing their goods.
A lot changed in the latter decades of the twentieth century, as global news and the Internet gave rise to mainstream consumer activism. Boycotts took off against brands such as Shell, for example. It was a watershed moment - corporations that had previously been encouraged to maximize profits in the golden era of capitalism were promptly forced to take stock of their actions, to discover (or re-discover) their moral compass and consider people and the planet, as well as their shareholders.
In the years that have followed, the consumer voice has increased exponentially, fed continuously by environmental catastrophes, sweatshop scandals, animal testing and tax avoidance schemes. Many businesses have responded introspectively with risk management strategies, systems and processes that aim to safeguard them against reputational crises.
But box-ticking exercises and inauthentic hyperbole doesn’t cut it anymore. Corporations that aren’t taking purpose, CSR and sustainability seriously will get caught sleepwalking and become increasingly irrelevant and unappealing to the next generation of consumers, stakeholders and employees. For examples of brands that have used their purpose to galvanize corporate activism, see Patagonia vs. Trump administration and Lush vs. undercover policing in the UK. These campaigns drive directly to the hearts and minds of their followers and fans and show, not tell, how serious these brands are about doing the right thing.
CREATING TANGIBLE ACTION AND CHANGE
Having worked in the strategic communications space for over 13 years, I was interested in finding out if other businesses are proactively preparing themselves for the scrutiny they have, or will, come under. I contacted 6 leaders in global CSR and sustainability to find out about their ambitions, challenges and concerns.
At the highest level, all contributors said their CSR and sustainability work was now being given the top level of importance and priority within their organizations, and that this level had increased significantly during the past 5 years. More than half agreed that this is influenced by the power CSR can have in differentiating their brand in a crowded marketplace.
Despite this, most contributors said that although work had started, there was a distinct lack of cohesive strategy to connect and underpin piecemeal efforts across their businesses. Consequently, this was hindering their ability to engage employees, stakeholders and customers and, in turn, devaluing investments made in the area.
WHAT'S HOLDING BUSINESSES BACK?
A few common themes emerged:
The marketing budget allocated to CSR is not reflective of ambition and priority. The most established and proactive firm I spoke to is investing only 0.5% of the overall marketing budget in this area. They said, “our CSR strategy is well established which enables cohesive communication with colleagues and stakeholders, however, we’re missing an opportunity to build brand empathy with customers since our marketing teams are not fully engaged.”
LACK OF VISION
A lack of vision, understanding and communication from senior leaders within businesses is leading to a short-term view on how CSR and sustainability will add value to the business in the long run. As one CSR manager suggests; “There’s a huge lost opportunity here - the idea of spending on ‘purposeful’ messages for longer term, above-the-line brand building is just not recognized or valued at a high level. Especially in ever-tougher market conditions.”
Board-level diversity is still an issue in many businesses. One contributor believes this “adds to the disconnect between what is valued by a rich white man vs. the person on the street.”
PROFITS OVER PEOPLE
Public Limited Companies are owned by shareholders and report into the city each quarter making it harder for businesses to raise the priority of societal and environmental initiatives over profits - although, as one contributor adds, “investors do have a growing appreciation of the importance of building green and sustainable businesses and looking at the longer-term picture.”
LONG-TERM BENEFITS OF GOOD COMMUNICATION
In addition to the more obvious benefits of businesses doing good, a few contributors cited the positive influence on attracting new talent. One CSR manager said that as a result of communicating their work, they’re seeing an “incredible influx of talented and socially-conscious people approaching and joining the business. They all have sustainability front of mind and this means we can build an innovative business which is tuned into the challenges businesses we will face in the future. As such, our CSR work becomes a huge asset here.”
In summary, then, the businesses I spoke with have largely responded well to new pressures, and in one case have led their sector for some time. Encouragingly, the majority felt their work was authentic and aligned with business purpose and strategy, suggesting that CSR and sustainability was ingrained at a deeper level and not just greenwashing.
However, what’s holding back many firms from connecting their purpose to their products and services and empowering staff to clearly articulate their beliefs is the lack of investment in an effective brand and marketing strategy. At the same time, CSR, sustainability and marketing teams must become better aligned in order to promote a deeper understanding and harmonious balance between purpose, product and impact. Such an approach would inspire more compelling messaging and differentiate good companies from great ones.
It was great to be involved at Climate Week NYC this year and to speak on the panel for ‘Communicating Climate Change’ at The Hub, sharing insights about CSR and sustainability communications. We look forward to seeing climate action be taken to the forefront of businesses agendas, and hearing about progress made at next year’s Climate Week NYC.