Salesforce Sustainability Cloud helps customers reduce their carbon footprint

Data visualization is a key component of Salesforce's Sustainability Cloud, which helps customers track their impact on the environment.

Salesforce Sustainability Cloud helps customers reduce their carbon footprint

At Dreamforce 2019 in San Francisco, TechRepublic's Bill Detwiler spoke with Salesforce's VP of Sustainability Patrick Flynn and GM of Sustainability Cloud Ari Alexander about the company's Sustainability Cloud. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Bill Detwiler: Tracking sustainability is important for companies as they work to reduce their carbon footprint, and here at Dreamforce 2019, I'm excited to be here with two gentlemen to talk about what Salesforce is doing in sustainability and a new product they have, Sustainability Cloud.

Joined with me here are Patrick Flynn and Ari Alexander. Patrick, let's start with you. Talk about Salesforce's efforts in sustainability and how you incorporate this into everything Salesforce is doing.

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Patrick Flynn: For Salesforce, the environment is a key stakeholder. When we think about our values of trust, innovation, customer success, equality, we're driven to be a leader in environmental responsibility. I'm really thrilled with how mature many of our core programs are right now. You see, when a company like Salesforce begins its environmental journey, it's really important to think about what are the biggest impact areas that we have--as a cloud company that has to do with our data centers and the electricity they consume, our offices, our employees, business travel, across all of those areas we've had a lot of success recently.

For example, all of our products are carbon-neutral. We're on our way to 100% renewable energy. We'll hit that in FY22. Among our employees, we have one out of five part of our Earthforce group that does many things around the globe to have an environmental impact locally. Because we've reached this maturity in our key program areas, it's time to start thinking about those initiatives that have a chance to deliver impact at planetary scale. What are the environmental initiatives that can have results that are a hundred X--a thousand X--bigger than Salesforce? We start to think about engaging the investor community, engaging our supply chain, and--in a really big, exciting new way--thinking about our use of technology in the hands of our customers, allowing them to transform their business.

Bill Detwiler: So Ari, let's jump right into Sustainability Cloud because its goal is to help Salesforce customers track their sustainability efforts. Tell me about the product itself and how your customers are using it or can use it.

Ari Alexander: Just as we've always helped our customers with all the kinds of transformations they face--whether it's the transition to mobile or to social or to AI--customers increasingly are asking us to partner with them, with technology, and with advice on how to deal with a rapidly changing climate. The Sustainability Cloud really helps them begin that journey by putting trusted data on a trusted platform that helps them get a sense of what their environmental impact is. For most of our customers, that's a brand new exercise, and for many that had been at this for many years like we have, there's still a lot of business improvement to be done there in order to gain efficiencies and focus on strategic work, rather than the inefficiencies of data collection.

Bill Detwiler: I know that one of the key acquisitions that Salesforce has made recently is Tableau. That's something that I think is really important when we are talking about a topic like sustainability and reporting--is being able to visualize all this data that we're gathering. Talk about how Sustainability Cloud helps companies tell that story about their sustainability efforts. What type of visualizations can they get? What type of data can go in? Can they collect? Can they analyze?

Ari Alexander: You're exactly right that there are a small number of people at a company who are going to be responsible for that data collection effort--to figure out what is their carbon footprint--but there are a lot of people really interested in the output of that. This is where data visualization does a powerful job in translating between subject matter experts and the rest of us who want to know: what is our environmental impact and where should we take action? In the Salesforce Sustainability Cloud, we've prebuilt dashboard templates to show a C-level executive how does your carbon footprint break down? Into which parts of your business? In which regions? They can quickly see where should they take action first.

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Bill Detwiler: Patrick, speaking of the different stakeholders in an organization that are responsible for these sustainability efforts, how do you take efforts from the C-level? Push that down through the rest of the organization, and then push it globally across large multinational corporations with tens of thousands of employees and sort of make them engaged in the company sustainability effort?

Patrick Flynn: It brings to mind one of the best phenomenons here at Salesforce and in the sustainability ecosystem globally, which is the spirit of cooperation. We're all in this after the same end goal: to make the planet better for generations to come. Ari mentioned there's this phenomenon where the gap between those who have access to trusted data and the senior members of the company who needed to make strategic decisions is widening. Being able to generate trusted data on Sustainability Cloud and then visualize it on the mobile device of the executive--of the member of the board of directors--in order to inform their strategic decision making process. That's a totally different way that a sustainability team will operate in the future. The way it happens now is it's a typically under-resourced team spending a lot of time gathering the data over a really long timeframe. By the time they've got it in hand, it's out of date, and they can't move at the pace of the business or have the types of conversations needed at the level that they're being demanded to have them.

Bill Detwiler: Ari, from your point of view, how is it Sustainability Cloud is able to help companies move quickly? To move its scale and with speed?

Ari Alexander: We see about 8,000 companies that are thus far participating in this global conversation by counting their carbon footprint, and we have well over 150,000 customers. The vast majority of our customers are looking for a place to begin, and for them, they're going to get guided on the process of going through their carbon footprinting exercise for the first time and quickly find themselves able to translate from what that exercise looked like to those who would like to know what came out of it. They're not going to have the resources and the time and the people to really do all that kind of calculating work and data visualization themselves.

We've really tried to package it up and make it very accessible to first-time carbon accounters, and to much to our delight, we're also finding that people that have been at this for many years are telling us that they too would find it valuable because actually they've been working in spreadsheets for years and that it's been a very painful process. We really feel like we're coming at this issue into the marketplace at a time when there's a huge pent up demand for accelerating the process of accounting and figuring out how to take climate action across every sector in every geography.

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