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How Business Leaders Can Help Combat the Climate Crisis

Pip Marlow delivered a keynote address at the SMH Sustainability Summit 2020. This is a lightly edited version of her presentation.

We are in a multi-faceted crisis. We have for some time been faced with an ecological crisis, which has been compounded  by a health crisis. That’s contributed to an economic crisis and a social crisis.

COVID-19 has surprised us with its speed and disrupted our lives — we had no choice but to pay attention to it and to its revelation of the fragility in our systems and the inequalities facing the world today.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen that change happens more often when something radically disrupts our lives — until then we often won’t pay attention to it. We cannot let this happen with climate change. We know right now that climate change is real, that there is no ‘Planet B’, and that we are already working with fragile social systems and worsening inequality. Everyone has a role to play in taking action now, including business.

Business can be a platform for change

Business can be one of the greatest platforms for change, and it should be – we have a responsibility to our stakeholders not just our shareholders, and the environment in which we live and work is one of our key stakeholders. Australians and New Zealanders agree – 61% think climate change should be a high priority for businesses and 55% say it’s critical that their work helps the planet. 

It’s not just ‘important’ – it’s ‘critical’ to more than half of Aussies and Kiwis that their work has a positive impact on the planet. See more insights in our Global Stakeholder Research Series.

It’s not just ‘important’ – it’s ‘critical’ to more than half of Aussies and Kiwis that their work has a positive impact on the planet.

Leaders cast a long shadow — but in this case leadership on climate change, or on using your business’s platform to drive any kind of change, requires more than creating a set of values or signing a pledge. It requires real action and investment. 

I’ve always said, “Show me your wallet and your calendar, and I will show you what you really care about”. Our recent bushfire season was a great example of that premise in action. Yes, people posted words of care and concern on social media. But people and businesses also took real, impactful action — spending their time on the ground supporting communities and fighting fires, and spending money on both causes as well. 

The technology industry is in a unique position to step up and innovate where other industries can not. Every day we work on disruptive innovations and find solutions to complex and sometimes intangible problems that will not just shift the needle, but upend the measure altogether. Technology companies bringing their expertise and resources together to build solutions to help combat climate change could make a significant impact.

Make sustainability a silver lining

Just like the multi-faceted crisis we are in, our solutions must be multi-faceted. We’ve been forced to act by the extent and immediacy of the disruption, and have scaled testing, found ways to work and live from home, and built (and accepted) novel solutions to contact tracing and health assessments. 

And, though it will be no comfort to the millions who have been affected by this particular crisis, COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to learn from the experience, consider a broader range of scenarios in our business continuity plans and bake in resilience as a priority.

We also need to carve out resources in good times to address future problems before they become catastrophic — including climate change. As companies build back, they need to put a green lens on every part of their operations. Some solutions to these will be evident from our recent experiences, for example:

  • Supply chains being reimagined to draw on local resources.

  • Business travel reductions in favour of virtual meetings and events.

  • Investment decisions based on climate impact — just as we’re seeing Air France told to scrap domestic routes that compete with nuclear-powered high-speed trains, or to forfeit taxpayer assistance.

3 actions that will create change

There are three key actions leaders must take if their businesses are to be platforms for positive change in the world:

  1. Be transparent and vulnerable on this journey
  2. Drive and celebrate incremental change as well as large innovation
  3. Empower champions

It’s not enough to say we support sustainability and hope the rest will take care of itself. Leadership must be accountable and transparent about concrete actions being taken and commitments being made, and how we are tracking, reporting and improving progress. 

For example, Salesforce has committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we publish our progress. Globally we’ve been making a positive impact in eight of the SDG areas through our corporate and employees’ efforts:

  • No poverty
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Climate action

This transparency also requires vulnerability — admitting and accepting that there’s work to be done and we can’t do it all in one day. We at Salesforce are on a path to 100% renewable energy and we have a plan to get there by 2022 — we know there is more work to do and are committed to doing it.

Speedy innovation is great, and it’s part of our reason for being — we put Sustainability Cloud under the ‘innovation’ umbrella. But we also celebrate and drive this incremental change.  

Leadership’s long shadow gets longer when champions stand alongside the leader — this requires both the wallet and calendar I mentioned earlier. One way to empower champions at all levels and across all functions of an organisation is to enable employees to give the company’s resources to projects they are passionate about, within and outside the organisation.

One of our largest employee resource groups, Earthforce is a global community of 9,000+ employee volunteers who promote and celebrate environmental responsibility at Salesforce. This group has driven incredible change in our offices and practices.

Climate change is one of the biggest and most complex challenges that we’ve ever faced. Climate change impacts everyone — every individual, company and nation — and those with the least are often impacted the most. Combating climate change is everyone’s job, because it’s everyone’s planet. 

Pip Marlow is CEO ANZ at Salesforce. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Track, analyse, and report environmental data to help reduce your carbon emissions and drive sustainability — tangible steps towards carbon neutrality. Find out more about Salesforce Sustainability Cloud.

Use this versatile framework to stabilise your business, reopen your workplace, and accelerate change to grow in the next normal.

Pip Marlow CEO, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand

Pip Marlow is Chief Executive Officer, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand. In this role, Pip is responsible for ensuring Salesforce delivers on its values of trust, customer success, innovation and equality for both our customers and our community across Australia and New Zealand. Prior to Salesforce, Pip was Chief Executive Officer Customer Marketplace at Suncorp, where she was responsible for driving customer focus into all aspects of Suncorp’s business including strategy, customer care, partnerships and innovative solutions that add value for customers. Prior to joining Suncorp in 2016, Pip was at Microsoft for 21 years where she held a number of roles for them in Australia and the USA. This culminated in her role as the Managing Director of Microsoft Australia for 6 years. Pip is also a non-executive director of the Rugby Australia (ARU), sits on the Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Board at UTS,  is a member of Chief Executive Women (CEW), and is an Executive Ally for Pride Diversity. She is a passionate advocate for flexible and diverse workplaces that empower people. Born and  raised in New Zealand, Pip lives in Sydney with her Scottish husband and her two American born daughters, Sophie and Lucy.

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