The Mission to Track Emissions: Why Salesforce’s Sustainability Cloud is Changing the Game for Environmentalists

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Imagine you’re a new environmentalist fresh out of school and you’ve just landed your first opportunity in the corporate world. You’re excited and eager to take on the challenges ahead of you. The only problem is, instead of saving the world and finding new ways to make a difference, you’re looking at spreadsheets…for hours. Welcome to the world of greenhouse gas accounting, or at least the old way. On this episode of IT Visionaries, we brought in two industry leaders who are making a difference. Ari Alexander, GM of Salesforce Sustainability Cloud, and Shengyuan Su, Program Manager, Sustainability at Salesforce, join the show to discuss how Salesforce’s Sustainability Cloud is changing the way environmentalists report emissions, why companies voluntarily report their carbon emissions and how the private sector is being asked to lead the charge for governments around the world.

Key Takeaways:


  • Movement in the industry is happening and a lot of that movement is based on peer pressure and the fear of bad publicity
  • Governments are asking private sector companies to carry the torch when it comes to carbon accounting because they believe companies are further along in the process
  • The vast majority of Fortune 1000 companies were using spreadsheets to do their annual greenhouse gas inventory. The Sustainability Cloud was designed to help companies better understand their carbon footprint and more efficiently report it



What is Sustainability Cloud?

Salesforce wanted to build a solution for customers to understand their carbon footprint and drive climate action. Sustainability cloud was the solution they came up with. Companies voluntarily share their carbon emissions and Salesforce is trying to use that data. Salesforce wanted to bring the product to the market because they wanted to bring this to scale. 

“The vast majority, even of the fortune 1000 companies in the world, are using spreadsheets to do their annual greenhouse gas inventory. And it is remarkable because this is a time when that data that comes out of those processes has greater and greater visibility than ever before. Right up to the C-suite, the Board of Advisors, the Board of Directors, you know the employees, all of the stakeholders that a company is managing. It’s crazy for a data set like that, which really impacts investment decisions, impacts employee perspectives, customer perceptions of companies, to be really in this pre-internet era of technology. It’s quite shocking and that’s actually one of the reasons we decided to bring this product to the market.” – Ari

The Scope of the Problem 

Sustainability is a word that can mean many different things to many different people. The Sustainability Cloud is focused on climate action and adjacent sustainability development goals. 

“There are many people that when they hear sustainability, they think either about more of the social dimension or even the governance dimension. When people talk about ESG or environmental social governance reporting, sustainability cloud’s really focused on the climate change action part of that conversation.” – Su

Speeding Up the Process 

Currently, a lot of companies are facing the same problem when it comes to self-reporting their carbon footprint. They are sharing multiple structured data sets with stakeholders — including PDF files, invoices and spreadsheets – while having to consume, write and report out those files. Previously, there were no universally streamlined processes or plans to manage that information. 

So, when Salesforce set out to build the Sustainability Cloud, they were actively thinking about ways to streamline the process. They looked at the values of Salesforce technology or any other technology that could help shorten the process and in return, improve data quality. Some of the functions they built included interactive dashboards to help aggregate data plans, and  help provide insights on where customers and businesses could focus on to address their environmental issues.

How Sustainability Cloud is Helping Companies

Over the last year or two, sustainability has become a strategic conversation for many companies. Salesforce is often having conversations with CFOs, CEOs and CMOs about what they should know, what the Sustainability Cloud does and how it can help them.  

“Sustainability is becoming one of those macro trends that CIOs are trying to get their arms around and Sustainability Cloud is a wonderful way for them to begin that journey as a partner to their sustainability team and to the overall conversation on environmental data taking place at the company.” – Ari 

Closing the Gap

Sustainability leaders, sustainability analysts and Salesforce users have very little overlap with one another. So IT champions and partners that Salesforce has worked with on projects are now becoming crucial figures in the conversation between salesforce and sustainability teams about driving climate action using technology. Salesforce is encouraging a lot of companies — especially tech companies — to think about what the core competencies are in how technology could provide a lot of value for climate and the environment. 

“We’re finding that really interesting dots are getting connected within companies driven by Sustainability Cloud because of this evolving strategy that really brings in folks from procurement, from travel, from sustainability – often with a C-level executive sponsor – to think about how to do this at a company.” – Ari

Adapting to Change: Helping Companies Break Old Habits 

For a long time, sustainability teams have been outsourcing this problem. The thought process has always been that it’s easier to pay a consultant to ballpark your environmental impact than it is to have your own system give you an overview of the issue given the complexity of the data. Su has seen companies that had switched to new technologies or software, but eventually reverted back to spreadsheets for the ease of conducting quick calculations and because they don’t see the need or value in new technologies.

“A lot of the tools and a lot of the movement behind more and more companies voluntarily disclosing, and more and more companies having publicity around being a leader or a poor performer is really driving a lot of this momentum in the corporate climate space in ways that just simply haven’t happened in international climate diplomacy.” – Ari

How Does All of This Apply to Governments? 

One of the things that has been really surprising is that most governments are asking the private sector to lead the way when it comes to carbon accounting. One particular thing to note is due to the Paris Climate Accord, countries aren’t required to report on their carbon emissions — even on an annual basis. It’s surprising because most Fortune 1000 companies are annually reporting on their carbon footprints already. Because of the private sector possessing more maturity to this process, Salesforce is already in conversations with governments to help them identify tools that would be helpful to them to further evolve and adapt the tools in Sustainability Cloud.

“The transparency momentum that we’re seeing in the private sector, where companies are really being pushed by investors to shine more light on data, that transparency is extraordinarily fraught on the world stage of international climate diplomacy.” – Ari

The reality for international organizations designated with the task of bringing every country in the world together to continue the process of climate negotiations, is they actually find it extremely difficult to try to enforce behavior that shines transparency on countries either not showing up or not participating. A lot of the movement behind self-reporting is driven by fear of being a poor performer or bad publicity.

“The goalposts keep moving in the right direction and it really is largely driven by peer pressure.” – Ari 

“At the end of the day though, the work of reaching goals, of putting companies on this course, starts with trusted data. And that’s why we’re having such interesting conversations across every industry with our customers now, because you can’t begin if you don’t know where you are and if you know where you are…Now is a good time to shore up that dataset as you know, there’s greater and greater visibility to launch some of these key strategic objectives.”  – Ari

Using Data to Get Initiatives like One Trillion Trees off the Ground 

One Trillion Trees is an effort by the global community to reach a goal of planting and protecting as many trees as possible.The initiative is based on research of the number of trees currently around the world and the number of trees that used to inhabit the Earth. The organization is helping improve the capacity, quality and breadth across the world with government and company commitments.

No. 1 User, Tester and Innovator 

Su not only developed Sustainability Cloud, but she is involved in every aspect of it — from both the development of the product to acting as the end user. Running sustainability programs like reporting and setting meaningful targets for companies and stakeholders allows her to actively think about process deficiencies and data gaps inspired by those programs.

“As a first user of this solution, I do see huge values to not only maintain some structured data and drive actual insights using this data, but also to keep using the technology and keep proving our programs.” – Su



Episode 160