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Why Using Technology to Accelerate Climate Action is More Essential Than Ever

By Tim Christophersen October 10, 2022

In September, I attended several events as part of Climate Week in New York City, all of which focused on sustainability and how to accelerate the ecopreneur revolution. Ecopreneurs, or startups focused on solving climate challenges, are launching innovative ideas to protect the planet and drive climate impact locally and at scale. As a founding sponsor of UpLink, Salesforce is helping connect more than 50,000 ecopreneurs around the world as they develop the next generation of climate solutions and accelerate progress on the UN SDGs.

After my week in New York, I was left with a sense of both optimism and urgency. Progress is being made, but so much remains to be done—and we have no time to lose. Here, then, are some key takeaways from my Climate Week journey:

Climate action needs to become the default position

There is a lot of momentum in the business sector to take faster climate action, but there is also hesitation and fear of “greenwashing” backlash. Some companies would rather do nothing than do the wrong thing. We must make it more acceptable for companies to act, while we all improve and learn together, than to sit on the fence. That’s why Salesforce launched the Net Zero Marketplace, which makes it safer, more transparent, and less complex for companies to include carbon credits in their overall climate action plan. Emission reductions must always come first, while carbon credits are an important ‘last – but not later!’ part of climate action.

The nature-based investment market is unique

Major mainstream capital investment firms are beginning to make natural climate solutions one of their areas of priority, creating the potential for large investments in nature, but also some new risks. These firms may be inclined to treat nature the way they do other markets, but nature-based solutions are unlike any other kind of investment. 

We need a multi-billion-dollar nature restoration and conservation market to support the climate and the SDGs, but we also need to educate investors. Investment frameworks for nature-based solutions need to span 20 years or more—there are no short-term profits or quick fixes. And we have to look beyond financial returns on investments in nature to also seek out returns on natural capital, social capital, and inspirational capital—the “four returns” framework developed by Commonland.

We need to show people what is possible

Often, we don’t invest in nature restoration or conservation because we don’t know what large-scale restoration would look like. Many people don’t even know that a landscape is degraded, because for them, it’s always looked like that. For example, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the landscape resembles what many people consider a typical African savanna, with a few trees every hundred meters or so and brown grasslands in between. But if you go back 150 years, it was a densely thicketed forest. 

Inspirational capital refers to what is possible if we work with nature, not against it, shifting from an extractive economy to one that is regenerative. People need to know what is possible, and they need to see how it works in real life. This is why Salesforce has demonstrated that it is possible for a large multinational company to get to net zero.

We need to treat nature as critical infrastructure

If we start to think about nature as critical infrastructure for society, then we can begin to allocate budgets to restore places like the Everglades or Scotland’s peatlands, which in their natural state are active carbon sinks and high-biodiversity ecosystems. It would not be very difficult to achieve; it simply requires us to value these areas for their ecosystem services, rather than the resources that can be extracted from them. And we need a large industry to emerge that can handle these kinds of big infrastructure investments. But we’re in a race against time, so that shift has to happen very quickly. Most of the building of that multi-billion-dollar nature restoration and carbon-removal industry has to happen within this decade.

At Salesforce, we favor nature-based solutions because they’ve been tried and tested over billions of years of evolution, and that’s hard to beat with technology. But technologies are catching up, becoming more cost-effective, safe, and scalable. So we need a portfolio of carbon-credit options, but most importantly, we need to reduce our own emissions. That was the message we repeated everywhere in New York: Emissions reduction first, and carbon credits as a secondary—but parallel—option.

Regulation is important—but collaboration is even more so

So how do we make all of this happen at the speed and scale that is required? One of the best ways to move the private sector is through regulation. I’m proud to say that Salesforce is one of the few companies that advocates for mandatory carbon disclosure for all companies everywhere. But we can’t wait for that kind of regulation, which can take years to be enacted. We have to act now. 

I find the most effective way to engage the private sector is to connect, company to company, in a non-competitive environment. For example, the sustainability officers of many large companies often share approaches and learnings. Those connections often move the needle more than either outside pressure or new science. We have sufficient climate science to act.. We know that we need to take action. Here, Salesforce is uniquely positioned, because we can afford a fairly large team that can think through all the areas of sustainability, and then we share all those lessons and insights with our customers, because their success is also our success. It’s a very effective way of triggering more action.

Moving forward at planetary scale—together

In New York, we heard from partners and others that it’s important for everyone to collaborate more effectively along the entire continuum of climate and nature investments: from seed funding for promising startups, to capacity-building through nonprofits and think tanks, to large investments (that can be public-private) for scaling up the most promising solutions. We can build the public side of a multi-million-dollar investment in nature. Of course, private finance will need to be involved; for example, through green bonds. But public investments will be essential to drive a planetary-scale restoration of our ecosystems.

At the same time, we must shift our understanding of nature from something that is free and taken for granted to something we must replenish. Governments need to step up and set a clear global nature framework this year at the Convention on Biological Diversity, as we call for in our Salesforce Nature Policy Priorities. Businesses need to show that leadership already exists and push forward on implementation. And citizens need to be aware of the choices they make. If everybody moves forward at the same time, and moves more quickly, we have a much better chance of saving our planet before it’s too late.