Salesforce Tackles Climate Justice
SVP Naomi Morenzoni Explains the CRM Giant's Strategy
Devin: What do you see as your superpower, your stand-out skill that allows you to be effective at the great work that you’re doing?
Naomi: I think my superpower is that ability to bring lots of people with lots of ideas and get them together so we can drive greater impact.
Salesforce, the enterprise CRM giant, has launched a $100 million “Ecosystem Restoration and Climate Justice” fund. Naomi Morenzoni, the company’s senior vice president of philanthropy, joined me to discuss it. (Disclosure: I own a few shares of Salesforce.)
The idea of climate justice is still emerging as a theme at the intersection of social justice and climate change solutions.
“When we think about climate justice, we think about those who are hit first and frankly worst by the impacts of climate,” Naomi says. “And it’s those in our communities who are often furthest from success, who are having the greatest impact in these moments.”
Her comments cause me to think of friends and colleagues living in Bangladesh, where 50 million low-income people live in areas that sea level may permanently flood before the end of the century.
Naomi provides further context:
If we want that healthy, prosperous society, we have to have an inclusive society. But at the foundation, we have to have a healthy planet. We have to make sure that our world, frankly, is not on fire because we're never going to be able to achieve any of those other goals that we've set out if we don't go after that first.
The problem far outstrips available resources, Naomi says.
“The funding that goes into this area is so small,” she says. “I think it’s something—only 2 percent of philanthropic funding goes to climate right now. If you look into community-led solutions by founders who are underrepresented, you’re looking at something like 0.6 percent. It’s abysmal.”
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Salesforce’s Ecosystem Restoration and Climate Justice Fund
Salesforce has made significant progress on sustainability, moving to 100 percent renewable energy. The company also sells a Net Zero Cloud that helps clients track and reduce carbon emissions. The CRM giant has already planted 43.5 million trees with a commitment to reach 100 million by 2030.
The company’s environmental philanthropic efforts are the furthest thing from greenwashing.
Around the world, just in recent memory, we’ve seen a measurable shift in so-called “natural” disasters. Naomi notes that what were once seasonal threats are becoming constant worries.
“Over the last few years, the intensity, the velocity, the just frankly, the sort of onslaught of these climate-exacerbated disasters continued to pummel our community,” Naomi says. “When we were talking to our community partners, when we were talking to organizations like the Red Cross or Latino Community Foundation, they were saying, we need you in the climate fight.”
“We have to move upstream; we have to get ahead of this as much as we can,” she adds.
When Salesforce launched the new fund, it focused on three areas. Naomi enumerated them:
First is just around climate and thinking about nature-based solutions, particularly what we call blue and green carbon sinks as a way to capture that carbon emission, making sure that we stay below that 1.5-degree tipping point.
The second piece was around biodiversity, making sure that the systems in which these trees are being planted or restored are kept healthy as part of that strategy.
The third pillar, which was important, was where this climate justice piece comes into play, is around livelihoods, making sure that we were supporting adaptation measures that were going to promote the economic climate and the climate resilience and community resilience side of this transition.
Naomi shared some examples of the projects the fund is supporting with an eye toward ensuring that communities that grantors have often left out of these conversations have a seat at the table.
One is our partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
We've been supporting a project that they have in Port Arthur, and this is a community that historically has just been pummeled during hurricane season. During Hurricane Harvey, 70 percent of the houses there flooded. This is also a predominantly black community.
This was a community that had been left out of a lot of these conversations, but they were feeling the impacts.
So what we did with them is support a project that is a multi-stakeholder project where they're bringing the community voice into the conversation to co-develop solutions around restoration of the coastal lands.
This is going to have a lot of different positive impacts. You're going to both be restoring the ecosystems so that you have that biodiversity regeneration. You're going to be creating jobs through that process and you're going to be making sure you're elevating the community voice in those solutions.
The net impact really is that when that next hurricane comes through, you're going to be able to slow down the impacts of it. You're going to be building more environmental and community resilience into that system there.
Naomi shared the story of another project the fund supported:
Another great example organization that we're giving to is the World Resource Institute. We're supporting their land accelerator program in Brazil.
This is really about training, technical assistance and mentorships for entrepreneurs who are going to be doing reforestation and restoration work on degraded lands in both Brazil and India.
What I love about this project is it's really thinking about how you support livelihood, entrepreneurship.
They help them figure out how to do pitch decks. How do you make sure that you can attract new funding from other investors, from impact investors? How do you get ready to be able to get a project into the carbon market so that you can be able to take advantage of the growth in that carbon credits?
Here’s a third story she shared:
Another great example is in an organization called Restor, and we're supporting a technical platform where they're using satellite imagery so that anywhere in the world you can go in and you can click in and say, “Okay, I live in Oregon. I want to know what projects are happening around reforestation in Oregon.”
We, in fact, get hit all the time by wildfires. It's really bad during the summers in particular. You can go in, you can zoom in on a particular project. You can click in and say, “hey, do they need funding? Do they need volunteers? How far along is the project? Is the project doing what it said it was going to do?”
So you have that verification opportunity and it's available really anywhere in the world.
“We’re trying to think about a lot of different ways and interventions that we can be investing because frankly, it’s going to take everything,” Naomi says. “It takes all of us in this fight to advance that action.”
“I think philanthropy has to be both the best and boldest risk-tolerant capital out there,” she says. “And it also has to be the patient capital.” In the climate space, corporations have invested billions and will invest trillions, but philanthropy will have to lead.
“When I think about risk tolerance, you know, with an angel investor, I did some research once, and I think they expect like 5 to 10 percent of their portfolio in angel investing to hit,” Naomi says. “We expect way more out of our philanthropic portfolios. We expect results. You know, we fund programs, we fund outcomes, but we’re not always investing in the innovation, and we’re not always investing in the capacity building that’s needed.”
Salesforce is working to change that dynamic.
In this massive effort, Naomi draws on her superpower, which I’ll call leading collaboration.
How to Develop Leading Collaboration As a Superpower
Naomi used to think of her superpower as being able to bring order to chaos, but recently she’s begun to appreciate the way that could limit outcomes. She now sees herself bringing flow to the chaos that comes from having lots of people at the table.
“I love a messy, chaotic situation, the energy, sort of the creativity that comes out of there,” she says.
Today, she sees the power of collaboration. “It’s really about thinking about how might we take all of this energy, all of this creativity, all of these great ideas and get them to get together and get it all in a single path, driving towards a single outcome where we can have incredible impact.”
She strengthened her superpower in 2020 by helping organize and implement Salesforce’s racial equality and justice commitment that came out of a company task force.
“We thought about all the different parts of our business that needed to come together to think about how do we support racial equity? How do we support racial justice?” Naomi says, “We made bold commitments across our people, our philanthropy, our policy positions and our purchasing.”
“That was a hard moment,” She says. “I’m going to be honest, like the emotions that I felt, the emotions our community was feeling, that sense of the magnitude of this reckoning was so big. How are we ever going to do enough?”
The task force was deliberate about setting bold goals. The company published them on the website and is tracking its progress publicly.
This project was a big win for Naomi, and she credits her ability to lead collaboration for getting it done.
She offers some advice for leading collaboration effectively.
“The approach that Salesforce comes from, when we think particularly about our community impact work, starts with listening like we don’t have all of the answers,” she says.
“We have to listen to those who have the expertise,” Naomi says. “We have to listen to those with lived experiences. We have to listen to those who are closest to the challenge because honestly, they usually have the best solutions.”
She offered a compelling example of listening and learning. In the reforestation effort around the world, one of the significant challenges is around seeds—collection, storage, and then getting saplings out of them. “But what’s not clear is exactly the right intervention.”
After listening to the experts, Naomi and the team identified a pivotal spot to invest some philanthropic capital. “We funded in Hawaii a technician who’s going to sit down with the expert in that area around a particular tree that’s critical to that ecosystem. And we’re going to support that training and the passing down of that knowledge.”
She also said the fund would try several things and recognize that some would fail. “Let’s learn from it. Let’s learn from where we failed.”
By following Naomi’s example and her advice, you can make leading collaboration a superpower that will enable you to do more good in the world.