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ESG and the Role of the CFO: A Conversation with Amy Weaver & Mark Hawkins

There’s no question businesses, governments and society at large are facing critical challenges as we build beyond COVID-19 and the many crises of the last year. It has been a powerful reminder that we are all connected, and that taking care of our stakeholders, including our planet, has never been more important. 

Every individual, institution, government, community and corporation has an essential role to play. 

But how do you measure impact? Now more than ever, people want a clear understanding of how companies are measuring the sustainability and societal impact of their business, making environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure more critical than ever. 90% of the S&P 500 now produce ESG reports, and Morgan Stanley has declared that ESG will define the next decade of investing. 

Amy Weaver and Mark Hawkins have worked side-by-side for years, together tackling some of Salesforce’s most complex challenges — including ESG measurement. Earlier this year, Amy transitioned into the role of Chief Financial Officer, having previously served as Salesforce’s Chief Legal Officer. Mark, who announced in December he would retire, has transitioned into the role of CFO Emeritus Adviser. 

We sat down with Amy and Mark to hear why ESG is vital to companies and communities, and how CFOs play a critical role in championing ESG initiatives.

Q. It seems like everyone these days is talking about ESG, but can you tell us what this means and looks like for Salesforce?

Mark: A commitment to, and investment in, ESG is a chance to show that we are a modern corporation and generational company. Customers are increasingly expecting companies they do business with to be socially and environmentally responsible; employees want to be affiliated with companies that have a heart and care; and businesses cannot thrive without a thriving planet. 

Amy: I would echo everything Mark just mentioned, and add that it’s no longer enough to just develop great products and deliver profits. The world needs principled leaders who lead with values. Integrating ESG into our core business strategy helps us ensure that we are living the values we were founded with 22 years ago: Trust, Customer Success, Innovation and Equality

Q. Why do you think it’s so critical that CFOs help drive ESG priorities forward?

Amy:  At a recent employee town hall, our head of sustainability Patrick Flynn, said “accountants will save the world,” which I think is absolutely true. Finance professionals have the ability to drive resource allocation, transparency, and accountability for ESG. Finance teams can shine a spotlight on the metrics that are going to demonstrate what is actually being achieved. It’s incredibly powerful. 

Mark: I really enjoyed that discussion with Patrick! And I’m reminded how early on, we weren’t approaching ESG like we do other critical business matters. One of the things that became clear was that we needed a plan to discover where we were on the path: are we behind, are we midstream, and of course, how can we do better. We felt we needed to treat this with the same analytical rigor as we do things like the budget. To this end, CFOs play a uniquely powerful role in bringing legitimacy to something that is a critical aspect of a successful corporation.

Amy: Precisely, and I think a great example of that is how the finance organization has led an effort to expand the third-party review of our ESG metrics. Our greenhouse gas emissions, diversity and inclusion metrics, and donated product value are now reviewed by our external auditor. We did this because we believe that key metrics should be re-performable, consistent and verifiable.

Q. How does Salesforce decide which ESG priorities to focus on? Is that something you reevaluate on a consistent basis?

Mark: First and foremost, Salesforce’s values and our V2MOM always drive our priorities. But it’s also about having the courage to rise to the moment. We’ve always asked ourselves, where is Salesforce uniquely positioned to make the most positive change?

Amy: We are incredibly fortunate to be doing this type of work in a company where giving back and stakeholder responsibility have been in our DNA since day one. With our 1-1-1 model at the center of our culture, we continue to make important commitments to diversity and equal pay

Mark: Absolutely. It’s one of the things that first attracted me to Salesforce and it’s what kept me at the company for so long. 

Amy: And to build on what was said about rising to the moment, this year has been a prime example of how we pivoted our priorities and looked for opportunities to use our technology in a way that benefits our communities and the planet. Oftentimes these opportunities are less obvious, but can be just as impactful.  

For example, in the midst of the global pandemic, we were able to source 60M+ units of PPE for hospitals and healthcare organizations around the world through our partnership with UCSF. 

We launched and Vaccine Cloud, technology that helps companies and communities re-open safely. And we made additional investments in Sustainability Cloud, a product that helps our customers quickly track, analyze and report reliable environmental data to help them reduce their carbon emissions.

Q. Amy, stepping into the CFO role, how does your focus on ESG change or evolve?

Amy: For any executive, but particularly for a CFO, there’s a growing recognition that ESG isn’t just a nice to have, or something that’s simply going to make employees happy — it’s critical to building a strong, durable company. 

Investors are now using ESG as a way to measure companies. They’re looking to see what your commitment is, and that’s because they know that there is a connection between ESG and long term value creation.

It’s been truly fascinating to move into the finance organization and see how finance, law and public policy come together to support our ESG priorities. In fact, this intersection is what I love most about this new role.

During my time as Salesforce’s Chief Legal Officer, we made the decision to bring together the legal, compliance, internal audit, security and government affairs teams so that we could work more closely together on core ESG initiatives. This allowed us to better collaborate on pressing issues such as privacy, equal pay and reducing our carbon footprint. I’ll continue to find ways to bring all these teams together to effectively address ESG transparently and with a high degree of accountability. 

Q. What are some of the most pressing ESG topics Salesforce has focused on over the years?

Amy: Our commitment to ensuring an inclusive future for all has been a top priority. In 2019, I was privileged to lead a team that established the Office of Accessibility. Since then, we’ve published our first-ever Accessible Virtual Experiences guidelines; our employee town halls are now always captioned; screen readers are readily available and an Accessibility Checklist is used to ensure all new facilities meet Salesforce’s accessibility standards.

Salesforce has also taken a very public role in supporting diversity and equality issues within our communities. When the state of Indiana introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that we feared would negatively impact the LGBTQ community, we were the first company to say we would halt expansion plans there if the law wasn’t amended. In fact, a group of us were standing at the beautiful Indiana State Capitol to watch as the amendment was passed.

More recently, we’ve engaged on issues related to voting rights through our Racial Equality and Justice Task Force’s policy committee. We believe that an individual’s right to cast a ballot in an election is fundamental to a functioning democracy.

Mark: I immediately think about all the work done with respect to the environment. I had the opportunity to be the executive sponsor of Earthforce, which I really enjoyed in large part due to the passionate employees involved. When the program started in 2014, there were a few hundred members and today there are over 9,000 employees in the group. This demonstrates a tremendous mindset shift towards activation as climate change continues to be a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. 

I’d also be remiss not to mention the work we’ve done with HRH Prince Charles’ Accounting for Sustainability initiative (A4S). Fifteen years ago, if you were in finance or accounting it would have been considered “outside of your swim lane”  to be worried about the environment. Now, A4S has a large network of CFOs all over the world working together to build environmental and social considerations into the strategy and business processes of their organizations.

Q. What do you see on the horizon in the ESG space and what do Salesforce’s ESG priorities look like for the year ahead?

Amy: One of the biggest advances we’re going to see is around metrics and the coalescing around a standard reporting framework for companies. If you can’t see the data, and you can’t understand your own data, it’s very hard to address the problem. We took initial steps eight years ago when we released our first Stakeholder Impact Report — a major move towards transparency. And each year, we aspire to improve the rigor of our disclosures to address rising stakeholder expectations and evolving best practices.

What we’re focused on now is advocating for a global standard and helping other companies embrace transparency on non-financial ESG metrics.

And as always, we’ll continue to let our core values drive our priorities, elevate our efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, combat climate change, and keep our stakeholders and planet at the forefront of our decision making processes.

To learn more about Salesforce’s ESG activities, read the most recent Stakeholder Impact Report and tune into Amy Weaver’s recent panel from the World Economic Forum’s first annual Global Technology Governance Summit (GTGS).


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