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On IT Visionaries, we talk to many different CIOs, but for this episode, the CIO we’re chatting with is different than what you’re probably expecting. Today, we’re excited to welcome Suzanne DiBianca, the Chief Impact Officer and Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations at Salesforce. Suzanne has been with Salesforce for 20 years and helped the company build up its philanthropic arms, including pioneering the 1-1-1 model so many organizations now adopt. In this discussion, Suzanne takes us through her history with the organization and talks about how to build a culture of sustainability. She also explains some of the climate initiatives that Salesforce has been spearheading and why a project like One Trillion Trees is so important right now in this decade of action. 

Key Takeaways:


  • Creating a culture of sustainability is about achieving buy-in throughout the organization
  • You need to meet people where they are in order to get them to commit to implementing new programs
  • We are in a decade of action and One Trillion Trees is an initiative that has the potential to make a difference


Suzanne’s role as Chief Impact Officer

Suzanne has been with Salesforce since almost the very beginning. In the early days, she built and ran the Salesforce foundation, now Salesforce.org, which she ran until a few years ago. Suzanne wanted to do more to build out and highlight all the ways that Salesforce was in fact a platform for change. She approached Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, and pitched the idea she had and the role of Chief Impact Officer is what emerged from that discussion. Many things fall under Suzanne’s umbrella, including sustainability, workforce development and more. She says that she serves as an incubator of ideas and helps other business units and departments implement and find success with ideas that will promote change, growth, sustainability or other goals. In order to get buy-in from others, Suzanne believes that you have to make it easy for them to make the change that they want to make, not force change upon them. 

“I inherently believe people want to make change. And given how much we all work, in this sort of 24/7 environment, having it be part of their day job is an important avenue for people to feel committed to the company, to feel committed to their team.”

Building the philanthropy arm of Salesforce

Suzanne says that everything she helped build with philanthropy is guided by the company’s values. At Salesforce, there are four values that Suzanne brings up:

  1. There is nothing more important than trust with customers, employees and all stakeholders. 
  2. The company believes that its not successful if the customers aren’t successful. 
  3. There must be a drive to be innovative and drive growth. 
  4. Value equality.

“I think about those four values and how we built the foundation and it’s a combination of a democratic approach and a strategic approach. And  what I mean by that is instead of having a foundation that just sort of sat off to the side and did its own thing in a room, we were really intentional early on about bringing people and their ideas into the fold so that we could create broad ownership for it.” 

Building a culture of sustainability

In order to create a culture of sustainability, Suzanne says you have to meet people where they are already. You need to engage people in ways that they understand and that links them personally to a larger goal. One way to do that is to let the people you are working with formulate their own ideas on how to implement some sort of program or idea, and then you can help them make that idea a reality. 

At Salesforce, becoming a more environmentally sustainable company has become a huge goal. Recently, Salesforce made the decision to become a net-zero company, which means they want to leave no negative impact on the planet. In order to do that, there needed to be a great deal of research, time, buy-in and investment in taking the steps to become carbon neutral. But when you take it a step at a time, stick to your values and hold yourself accountable, it is possible.

“The macro question overall is all about empowerment. It’s all about asking the CIO what they’re committed to. It’s all about talking to leaders and frontline workers and engaging them where they are.”

One Trillion Trees

The decade we just entered has been deemed the decade of action. The things we as a population do in this decade will set the stage for how the climate crisis will unfold. We can take steps to try to reverse some of the effects of climate change, and Suzanne believes that there is an opportunity to make a huge difference. 

Suzanne points out that currently, we are in the midst of a three-tiered crisis — a healthcare crisis, an economic crisis and a climate crisis. It can be overwhelming, and the climate crisis aspect can get lost. But there is not much time to make change in the timeframe that has been given so it is important to still take action to help restore our planet. As Suzanne says, there has to be a focus on both reducing emission as well as taking the emissions that are currently in the climate out of it. Oceans, forests and agriculture are the areas that are being affected the most by the climate crisis. The one area that Suzanne says they have found a good way to give back to those areas is through trees. By planting one trillion trees, you can take 25% of the carbon out of the atmosphere and help the environment in a nonpartisan and easy way. At Salesforce, Suzanne says the company has committed to putting one-hundred million of those trees into the world and they are working on plans to make that possible now. Salesforce is learning from its peers who are out in front of this initiative and partnering with companies to help create an even larger impact. 

“What we love about it is you can engage anyone. You can [engage] a child, you can engage an older person, you can engage a team, you can engage a family, you can engage anyone. Like it’s completely unbiased as it relates to age, race, anything. And it’s also totally nonpartisan. Who doesn’t like a tree?” 

Leading through times of crisis

As the world grapples with the effects of COVID-19, Suzanne says that the Salesforce leadership team had to come together to figure out the best way through this. They had to go back to their vision and values to build a way to navigate through these hard times that were best for employees, customers and stakeholders. One method they committed to was to over-communicate and make employee wellbeing the number one focus. The leadership and everyone at Salesforce is committed to ensuring that everyone that is a part of the company has the resources they need to work, be mentally taken care of, and stay safe and healthy. They ask their customers and their employees what they need and then deeply listen and adapt as those needs change. There are silver linings to this crisis as well, but we still have to come together and find our way through. 

“We ask, what do you need? What are you worried about? How can we help you? And then it backed us into really listening deeply to our employees and our customers.” 


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