You don't have to be an expert in energy or science to curb climate change. And I don't just mean the changes you can make as an individual, like reduce, reuse, and recycle.

When I began to realize how urgent and enormous the climate problem is, I was already a decade into my career helping our Marketing Cloud customers become more customer-centric. So it was agonizing feeling like if I wanted to work towards sustainability, I’d need to essentially start over in my education — there wasn't time for that! But fortunately, just a couple of weeks into my first class on the “circular economy”, I quickly realized I was wrong; there is plenty all of us can do — without changing careers.

I learned that our current economy is linear — “take, make, waste.” As businesses, we take resources, make something, and sell it. Then, as consumers, we dispose of it and its packaging as waste when finished. All of this happens continuously without anyone — producers, sellers, consumers, waste collectors, governments — held accountable for the associated social and environmental impacts. This is a serious problem facing our current economic system; by 2050 we’ll need the equivalent of almost three planets to sustain the current lifestyles of the global middle class if our population growth continues as projected. And we don't have the planets.

A circular economy, on the other hand, converts the linear into a loop by keeping all resources in play at their highest value. This video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation explains it in a more visual way:

I found it all to be quite fascinating, and was elated to learn that it wasn't just theoretical; there are companies and countries already succeeding with this and there's work to be done by everyone in every profession — not just by the energy and scientist types. Furthermore, since sustainability is systemic, we all have to work together, which represents yet another case for tearing down those organizational silos we already know shouldn't be there.

What can you do?

The most common comment I get when I talk with folks about these issues is: “But consumers are still buying [fill in the blank]. Business doesn't need to change until consumers demand it.” But here's the thing: how should the consumer know to demand it? There also isn’t time to waste waiting. As a marketer, you have the power to shape consumer behavior.

Here are five things you can do to work toward sustainability in your products, services, company, and industry:

  1. Get to know your company’s sustainability advocates.
    If your company has a dedicated team, ask them about how sustainable your products and services are, and how they’re improving. Start a dialogue about what you can do as a marketer to encourage sustainable product usage and end-of-life disposal by consumers. And if you don’t have anyone leading the charge yet, consider starting a grassroots group at your company — that’s how it started at Salesforce!
  2. Find out if you or your distributors offer take-back programs.
    If they don’t already offer product refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, or trade-in, propose it. Most people will dispose of products appropriately at the end of their useful life if it’s convenient and they know how to do it.
  3. Market your sustainability initiatives to customers.
    “Greenwashing” (misleading consumers to believe your products and services are more Earth-friendly than they actually are) is a huge no-no, but if you're making strides towards sustainability, by all means, talk about it. Transparency has been found to build brand credibility as well as consumer awareness around the industry's issues. Another place to start is working your products' end-of-useful-life options into your website and email footers.
  4. Nudge your company to develop sustainability-oriented revenue streams.
    Did you know that the average power drill is only used for about eight minutes over the course of its lifetime? What if we put more effort into marketing products as services through renting, leasing, sharing, repairing, and trade-ins? At Dreamforce ‘18, the CEOs from Levi Strauss and Rent the Runway discussed this very topic.
  5. Change your KPIs and incentive structures.
    As with everything sustainable, long-term effectiveness metrics are the most important. Replace short-term metrics with things like year-over-year customer loyalty, referrals, and sentiment. It’s the only way to coordinate a group effort towards lasting change.

It's becoming increasingly clear that sustainability is good for business. In 2017, Unilever's 26 sustainable living brands (including Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Dove, and Lipton) outperformed the average rate of growth among all of Unilever’s brands by 46%. Ben & Jerry's initiatives were featured during a Dreamforce '18 keynote.

Companies must embed sustainability into their entire business strategy if they want to be relevant and resilient in the future. Now, in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technology is continuing to advance at a rapid pace, we must truly transform our businesses and consumption patterns toward sustainability — not just make our unsustainable linear economy more efficient.

To brush up on your sustainability knowledge, take the “Create a Sustainable Future” trail on Trailhead. And to learn more about Salesforce’s own environmental initiatives, check out