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Why “Business is the Greatest Platform for Change” at the 2020 WM Sustainability Forum

“We don’t have to just be about the business of business is business. We can be transformational forces on the planet at a time when we need it more than ever. This is a great opportunity for everybody to participate.” – Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

The 2020 WM Sustainability Forum was held on January 30th, and brought along plenty of panels focusing on the ways business can positively impact the environment. And while many of its sessions had important insights, the standout was the CEO panel that featured Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Jim Fitterling of Dow, and Tara J. Hemmer and James Fish of Waste Management. In particular, Marc Benioff spoke to the benefits stakeholder capitalism, and how businesses have to lead the way when it comes to sustainability. He said:

“When we started Salesforce 21 years ago, we put 1% of our equity, all of our product and our time into a foundation. It was very easy because we had no equity, we had no time, we had no people, product. But we do have 50,000 people today. We have $160 billion market cap. We’ll do $21 billion in revenue in the next fiscal year. And when I look out at that, because we did that, we’ve been able to give away more than $300 million in grants. We run 40,000 nonprofits and NGOs for free on our service. We’ve done 4.5 million hours of volunteerism. And that type of work, that is — business is the greatest platform for change. You can integrate your business into these issues, and you can ignite your employees by making that decision.”

Watch the session, or read the full transcript below, courtesy of Sentieo.

 

TRANSCRIPT: Business Is The Greatest Platform for Change

Marc Benioff at the Waste Management Sustainability Forum CEO Panel

January 30, 2020 

https://www.wm.com/us/en/inside-wm/sustainability-forum/speakers

Participants 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc., President, CEO & Director 

James R. Fitterling. Dow Inc., CEO & Director 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc., Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO 

Tara J. Hemmer, Waste Management, Inc., Senior Vice President of Operations 

Tara J. Hemmer, Waste Management, Inc. – Senior Vice President of Operations 

How about Peter Zeihan? I’ve listened to him a number of times, and I don’t know whether or not to be optimistic or sheer and utter panic, but we’re going to go with optimism because that’s what this day is about. 

We’re going to go into our next conversation. And you hear a lot of themes today, both from Christiana Figueres, former Secretary Kerry and also Peter Zeihan that government used to play a role that corporations are going to play in the future. And this next conversation is about those corporations. So I’m pleased to announce a lively and insightful discussion among 3 well-known and respected CEOs. Please join me in inviting back our panelist moderator, Atlantic Publisher, Hayley Romer. 

So joining Hayley on the stage is Jim Fitterling. Jim is the Chief Executive Officer of Dow, a global material science company. Welcome, Jim. Next is Chairman, co-Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Salesforce and a pioneer of cloud computing, Marc Benioff. And please welcome back Jim Fish, our President and Chief Executive Officer of Waste Management. 

Hayley, take it away. 

Hayley Romer; Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

Hello, again. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. This is going to be a really exciting conversation, I have to say. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. And one of the things that gets me most excited for this conversation is the fact that we’re talking to 3 Fortune 500 CEOs coming from completely different industries. And yet you still come to the stage, facing a lot of the same challenges even within the different industries that you’re in. 

So one of the things I wanted to talk about is the fact that, arguably, your job today as CEO is more complex than it has ever been before. I don’t know that I’m trying to elicit sympathy, so much as kind of point out the fact that when we talk about the roles that you all are playing today, not simply for your company or your 

employees or your community, but really on the global stage, it’s much more complex than probably we have envisioned even 10 years ago. 

Question And Answer 

Hayley Romer; Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

So I thought we might start with that, with the role of the CEO and how it’s evolved. There’s been a little bit of talk this morning, certainly, Secretary Kerry mentioned it. You mentioned it earlier, Larry Fink had sent a new note again this year in his letter talking about the call for CEOs to play a greater role in society. Last August, the Business Roundtable comprised of 200 CEOs announced the purpose of a corporation is no longer about shareholder value but now about stakeholder value and that companies have an obligation to deliver for employees, customers, shareholders and the environment. 

So I thought maybe we’d start with that. Jim and Marc, you’re both members of the Business Roundtable. I want to start by asking you, how important is this declaration? 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

Well, I think it was timely that we came to it. I think it had been building up for quite a while. And I thought the response from people that we’re putting stakeholders in front of shareholders was a little bit interesting. Because our discussions have always been around this is an end. You have to do both. You have to make money and you have to take care of your employees and the environment, and address some of the other issues that aren’t being addressed by governments. And I think one of the things we felt as business leaders have to step in and fill that void. And maybe as Secretary Kerry said, governments aren’t being very good right now at infrastructure projects and other things, and they can’t solve these problems alone. They need leadership to do it. And we’re good allocators of capital. 

Hayley Romer

Right. Marc, does it have the ability to create measurable impact?  

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO  

Jim and I were just in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where really, for the last 50 years, we’ve been hearing about Klaus Schwab, the founder there, say that we do need a new capitalism, a stakeholder capitalism. And I think that if you were in Davos last week, you would come away thinking that capitalism is indeed dead because a new capitalism is emerging with these top chief executives, and that new capitalism is a stakeholder capitalism. 

And if I could explain that, when I went to business school, it was all about shareholder return. Milton Friedman, the business of business is business. And that just doesn’t work today in a society and in a world where we’re going through very much a planetary emergency. So you can see that — and let me say that on the shareholder side, Salesforce has — and our shareholders have done just fine. We’ve had about a 4,000% return since we went public in 2004. But we’ve also had a dramatic stakeholder return as well. That is, we look at our key stakeholders in our business. 

Let me give you a couple of examples. One is when a law was passed in Indiana discriminating against our LGBTQ employees, we took action with other companies to get that law changed. The reason why is because LGBTQ employees…thank you, are key stakeholders, for example. 

Another example is for our female employees, who are a key stakeholder for us. We now pay men and women equally for equal work. So that means that we’re auditing every year and have improved the pay of our female employees by $10 million because we get these inequalities. And it keeps happening because we’re an acquisitive company. We’ve done 50 or 60 acquisitions. When you buy a company, you not only get their intellectual property, you get their culture. You also get their pay scales. So we have to then adjust that because, in some cases, they’re not treating people fairly or equally. 

And a third example is the planet is a key stakeholder, which was why I was so excited to come when I got the invitation from Jim because this very much aligns with that vision we have, that we have to look at the planet as a stakeholder. We’re in a planetary emergency at many levels. I know we’re going to talk about that today. But for example, we’re a net 0 company. Soon, we’ll be a fully renewable company. We launched at Davos that we’re planting 100 million trees in terms of carbon — further carbon sequestration for the planet. We also aligned with the program announced by the White House in Davos, which is 1 trillion trees on the planet that’s getting mapped out, to sequester 200 gigatons of carbon because the planet is also a key stakeholder. 

So yes, we have to manage shareholder returns. But yes, we have to manage stakeholder returns. And the modern CEO, like the 3 that are up here today, that is how we think today. That is not where we were, I would say, 20 years ago, for example. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

That’s right. Or I would argue that is how you have to think today, but maybe not every CEO is thinking that way today. Clearly, the 3 of you are or you wouldn’t be onstage here. 

Jim, I want to jump to you for a second because you convened this conversation. And as Marc just touched on, it’s necessary if you want to make an impact to bring others into the fold. And so one of the things that you’ve done is brought together 2 other CEOs who are interested in continuing to have positive impact. How do you think about convening conversations and convening people across industries to have a measurable impact, in particular, when you’re in somewhat of a specific industry yourself? 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director

Well, we are in kind of a specific area on the supply chain, and as is Jim, for example. And so I hadn’t met either of these 2 gentlemen until about a year ago. I met Jim in New York, and we talked about sustainability, how important it was to both of our companies. So it felt like a natural to invite Jim. And then I met Marc a couple of months ago in Houston, and I thought, gosh, he’s such a huge thinker. How about having him here to really talk about these issues? I mean he went through this conversation about trees with us, which I honestly wasn’t aware of. I mean it’s actually kind of shameful that I wasn’t aware of it, but I do think that putting together this forum with some great thinkers on it is fantastic. It’s a fantastic first step. It’s a small example of what we can all do, but it has to go way, way, way beyond just this conversation. 

So the conversation is good, and it starts people thinking, but then we all have to take away from this and actually take active steps, take steps to do something. It’s why we’re taking active steps with our fleet. We can — Secretary Kerry talked about what do you think about electrification or hydrogen? And I said, look, we can turn on a dime with our fleet, literally. And we’ve essentially turned on a dime going from diesel to natural gas. And we can turn on a dime again when the technology works for us, and we think it is moving along quickly. 

So the fact is that bringing these 2 gentlemen up here to have this conversation is a very important part of this forum. But I think it makes — all it does is kind of stimulate thought, then we all have to leave and go take an active role in managing our environment. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

Right. Right, absolutely. And I think we’ll come to that, certainly over the course of this conversation. You mentioned trees. You mentioned trees. So let’s start with trees. We all are familiar with trees. And of course, I think this is a really interesting commonality given the varying sectors between you. I’m going to throw some numbers out here. 

Waste Management is the largest recycler in North America. You recycle over 8.5 million tons of paper per year, which is the equivalent of saving 195 million trees. You, Marc, talked about your initiative with 1 trillion trees. And at Dow, Jim, you’re also committed to reforestation, helping to plant trees, too. 

So let’s talk about the importance of that. Maybe, Marc, you want to start it off, start us off with why you jumped into that initiative and why Salesforce has a stake in this game. 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO 

Well, last April, a researcher in Zurich, Switzerland did something really unusual. He took artificial intelligence, something we do a lot with at Salesforce; and also new next-generation low-hanging satellites, which are very high definition and combined them for the first time to map out what it would take to build a network of trees that would sequester a huge amount of carbon. 

The way to think about the problem is that since 1750, the first Industrial Revolution, we’ve basically put about 280 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere. And that 280 gigatons of carbon is out there. There’s only a few ways for that carbon to get sequestered. You have the oceans. They do about 40,000 gigatons of carbon. You’ve got soils and next-generation regenerative soil techniques to about 3,000 gigatons tons of carbon. And then you have the trees, and the trees do about 2 — I think it’s about 200 gigatons per 2 trillion trees — per 1 trillion trees. So we’ve deforested the planet from — we used to have 6 trillion trees. We now have 3 trillion trees. That means we’ve taken about 600 gigatons of sequestration capacity right off the planet. So that’s why either, a, it’s in the atmosphere; or b, it’s in the oceans and/or — and it’s going into the soils but we need more sequestration capacity. 

We have to do 2 things with the planet. One is we have to reduce car emissions. You’ve heard about that today. Christiana Figueres with the Paris accord; John Kerry, the imperative that every company has to become net 0, every person. How many companies here, by the way, are already net 0 companies? Can you raise your hand if you’re a net 0 company? 

So I think that, that is going to be a big shift that every company will identify how they can become a net 0 carbon emitter, so they can look at their carbon footprint. We’ve done it. It’s very straightforward. We publish our stakeholder report on how to do it. But say, you know what, we’re not adding more carbon in the atmosphere, number one. Then number two, there’s a lot out there. How are we going to bring it down? That’s why I was so excited last week that President Trump, at the World Economic Forum, announced that he aligned with other global leaders to create a program called 1t.org. 1t.org is to plant 1 trillion trees planted throughout the planet as mapped out by this researcher, Tom Crowther. And the Chinese government also is participating, the European government, the Colombian government. Others, 1,000 companies all started to just come in because that also gives them the ability to become more of a net 0 company because planting trees is a key way to sequester carbon. Perhaps, it’s the — well, the tree is the most efficient way, most efficient technology that scales. Jim might have other ones or Jim might have other ones that — but the tree — by the way, the tree is a bipartisan issue. So that was exciting. 

Hayley Romer; Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

That’s right. That’s right. I figured… 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director

Yes, one of the few that we found, right? 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

I figured I’d start off with the [ top poll ]. Okay. 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO 

And who knew? And also, who’s anti-tree? 

Hayley Romer 

That’s right. 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO

Nobody’s anti-tree. We’re all pro-tree. It’s a uniter, actually. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

That’s right. Jim, tell us a little bit about your efforts here? 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

Yes. So we do a lot of reforestation around our facilities, obviously, to do 2 things. One, it gives us a green belt around the facilities, and that’s helpful. But it also gives us a natural way to deal with things. So beyond reforestation, we also do things like natural wastewater treatment. Instead of building a wastewater treatment facility, we’ll use a man-made wetlands, and we’ll use plant materials to recycle water in our facilities. And we’ve been working for more than a decade with the Nature Conservancy, which is one of the leading NGOs in the space. 

So when science-based targets and initiatives came out, we looked at what could trees do to help us offset our CO2 footprint because we’re a big energy-intensive company. We can’t do it with trees alone. We can offset some of the emissions, but we have to go back to source reduction as well. And I agree with where Secretary Kerry was, that for us, everything comes back to an energy policy so we can have a good environmental policy, but we got to have a good energy policy that matches up with it. 

And in our case, fossil fuels, at least natural gas, has helped us move in that direction. If you look at our industry, we moved away from using coal as fire for power plants in our industry almost 30 years ago because we were challenged with emissions reductions. If you look at what’s happened in the United States today, we’ve had a huge reduction in emissions because we’ve moved away from coal to natural gas. Natural gas was meant to be a bridge fuel to a future economy. But some of the things that we need to make for batteries, for photovoltaic solar systems are energy-intensive materials as well. So we’ve got to come up with solutions that make sense and policies that make sense. 

And I think that’s where the companies can play a leading example. So we can show from 2006 to 2019, we’ve grown our business dramatically, but we’ve reduced CO2 by 20%. And it wasn’t all done with trees. It was done with technology and innovation. That’s what you’re talking about doing with your fleet. We’ve got to do both, and we got the ability — companies have the ability to scale technology and to deploy capital. We can empower our employees to be part of that solution. Part of that empowerment is giving them the data that they need. So 40% of CO2 emissions comes from heating and air conditioning buildings. If we gave every employee the data that they needed to know, in their building and facility, what they could do to reduce CO2 emissions, we’d have a huge impact. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

So you’re touching on responsibility there. And I think that’s a good place to come back to you, Jim, because as leaders, of course, we all have responsibilities that really do have the ability to make an impact. And I talked to Secretary Kerry earlier about the fact that he thinks that really that private sector is going to put us. The private sector will be the one to make an impact, more so than the government. But maybe you could talk a little bit about how you see your responsibility and what it’s like working with the government to try to cover off on some of these issues and come to an agreement where you can drive impact, especially, to use Marc’s term, in a partisan world or the opposite of what Marc… 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director

It’s a really enjoyable experience working with the government. But I’d tell you, we mostly actually work with state and local governments. And state and local governments are much easier to work with, I would tell you, than oftentimes the federal government, regardless of who’s — of which party is in charge. It’s just a bigger bureaucracy. So — but I would tell you that I totally agree with what Secretary Kerry said about businesses playing such an active role in solving this huge problem. I’ve always felt like the private sector is better at solving problems than government and so really tackling this from the private sector side. That’s why — and I haven’t been to Davos. Marc had said, “Jim, you got to go to Davos.” And so I think it’s probably something I’ll have to do next year. But it’s really — it sounds like such an active discussion. And certainly, government is involved, but I think the private sector will ultimately help us see the error of our ways in the past. 

I also — it’s part of why we focused on the generational differences. And it’s part of why I had our 2 girls up here. They do think differently. They think differently than we did. They think differently than my dad’s 

generation did. So the millennials and the Gen Zs are helping us take a different role and act a bit more responsibly when it comes to the environment. And then we, as business leaders — by the way, we’ll only be business leaders for so much longer, and then that group takes over. So Peter Zeihan talked about how, Oh, geez, they’re going to — but you know what? I’m actually pretty excited about when they take over because they are thinking differently about these big major macro problems that the world faces. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

That’s right. And there are no shortage of them. Trees, a bipartisan issue. Let’s go to somewhat of a partisan issue, if you will. Though we’re not going to talk politics so much, but I do want to talk about plastics because it’s not all positive. 

Jim, I think your company is in a unique position, certainly on stage or has unique challenges with respect to plastics. A lot of the talk around plastics, of course, is that consumers are changing their behavior, sort of what you see every day in a way that you hadn’t even a year ago, right? Governments and corporations are banning use in varying degrees. San Diego has banned styrofoam, food and drink containers. Canada aims to ban single-use plastics by 2021. Peru, for those of you that don’t know, will no longer allow people to carry single-use plastics into their 76 natural and cultural protected areas. 

Single-use, again, if you don’t know, refers to plastic that’s used only one time. A surprising statistic that I read. It’s 40% of all plastic is for packaging, which is used only once and then thrown away. 

Straw bans are everywhere. They seem to be popular, companies like Disney, American Air, United, even Red Lobster are banning single-use straws. So talk a little bit about the unique challenges that you face as a company and how you think about, one, the future of the products that you’ll create; but two, also balancing the progress of your business while balancing or solving — helping to solve for some of the challenges we face in the environment? 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director

Right. I think plastics, obviously, is at the center of this conversation because of the ocean plastic issue, which is a travesty. But it goes back to what Christiana was talking about earlier, is we have grown up and built a linear economy. We use everything once. We throw it away. We landfill it. That’s the end of it. We don’t think about what happens at the end of life and how do we bring it back and recycle it and use it again. 

So our biggest challenge as an industry is we have to stop the waste, and we have to close the loop on that economy. And one of the things that we did as an industry about June of 2018, 5 of the big players — Secretary Kerry named them all — and myself got together, and we had all agreed to the Paris accord and we’re all driving environmental policies in our companies to meet that. We got together one afternoon and said, “We got to put together an alliance that works from the resin producers, the packaging converters, the consumer brand companies, the retailers, all the way down to the consumers and the waste management companies and look at that entire value chain and how do you redesign it.” Because if you’re going to stop the waste, you’ve got to get down to consumer behavior. They need to be able to put it in a recycle bin and get it recycled. 

But then Jim has got to have some place to sell it, and you’ve got to have consumers that want that demand back. So I’d say in a positive way internally with our team, the challenge in the plastics business is we design a lot of complex structure for packaging that you use every day: cereal packages, food and dairy, meats, cheeses. They need to be recycled. 100% of our product line should be able to be recycled. 

Now how do you get it recycled? And how do you get people to want to buy a post-consumer recycled material. For many years, brand owners did not want the material because they were more concerned about the aesthetics of the product than they were about the circularity. 

So now you have brand owners stepping up. Nestlé recently stepped up and says, we will buy $2 billion of post-consumer recycled resin and put it into our food packaging. That’s huge because that means we’ve got an outlook for that, and that’s going to drive investment in recycle. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

Why would every company not step up and buy? 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

They are. Sealed Air just announced that bubble wrap, their ubiquitous bubble wrap that you get in packaging at home every day, is going to be made with post-consumer recycled content. You’ve got Unilever with Dove and AXE brands that are coming out with recycled packaging. You got Procter & Gamble, tons of examples out in the lobby today. Everybody is moving into that space. And you know what the consumers are saying, which they didn’t say 10 years ago or 20 years ago is, “I want that,” and in some cases, “I’m willing to pay more for that because I know that I’m making a contribution.” 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

Right. So it’s partially an education issue, right? I mean I’m out there, I see the new Tide bottles, and I would not have any idea what the difference is between the old bottle and the new bottle, except for the fact that it might cost a little more. I might wonder why. But if we were better educating, even obviously, starting at a young age, the public and then corporations about this, people might feel better about it and be willing to spend on it. 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

Right. And you started on single-use plastics, and I’ll go back and say, not all of the things that we use that are single-use. Grocery bag is a good example. It can be recycled, but it’s not easy to recycle. And so people tend to use it — maybe they use it again to pick up after the dog, and then they throw it away. But that’s what happens with it. 

But typically, when you go at this, if you go at it from a standpoint of, “I want to close the loop, and I want to promote circularity,” what you tend to drive is investment in new technology and innovation. When you go at it from the standpoint of bans, you may actually do more harm to the environment than good. A great example, you ban a plastic bag, and you force somebody into a paper bag. That’s 4 to 5x as much CO2 emissions as the alternative; or a Canvas bag, which is great, but you’ve got to reuse that thing 20,000 times to make the same efficiency. 

So we got to make sure that we get policies right. And I like the way Christiana talked about it is let’s look at single-use anything and figure out how we’re going to stop the waste and close the loop. And we’re all in on the plastics side of it for being part of that and creating a lot of projects to actually showcase that. And that’s where I think industry plays the biggest role is we can put capital to work, we can showcase solutions, and then we can get the attention of governments and say, “How do I replicate this where you live?” And I’m happy if it’s state and local, because I think the vast majority of these solutions are going to be cities and municipalities tackling this issue, not federal governments. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

That’s right. Every year, at Davos, Edelman releases this annual Trust Barometer to talk about how people are feeling, where their trust lies within the world. And the big takeaway is that trust is local. So people feel really good about what they know and what’s close to home. What would you add, Jim, to that? 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director 

Well, I just think it’s interesting that — because a lot of this is generational. I mean my parents’ generation didn’t really have single-use stuff, maybe short of like Christmas wrapping paper or something. And my mom still folded it up and reused it, so my presents were always in that same paper every year. But we didn’t really have single-use things, and there wasn’t any designed obsolescence for — my dad and mom had the same washing machine for 25 years. Our LG washing machine is fantastic. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it’s not probably going to last as long as their Sears washing machine. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic  

Right. Your children will not inherit your washing machine. That’s right. 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director 

Yes. So I think this is somewhat of a development over really the last 20 years. But I do think that finding alternative uses, it’s not as if we’re going to go backwards on this. But I do think that finding alternative uses – – I mentioned a company called Continuous. And so we talk about things like mixed paper. And the market for mixed paper basically dried up 1.5 years ago when China said, we’re not going to take mixed paper anymore. So we can either sit in our conference rooms in Houston and say, “Well, gosh, I mean, boohoo. I mean we don’t have a market now for mixed paper.” Or we can figure out an alternative use for it. So that’s why I highlighted Continuous today because Continuous is a company that takes mixed paper and low-value plastics, like those grocery bags, and turns them into something that’s productive. It turns it into a building material that is stronger than the current building material. And obviously, it’s more sustainable. 

So I think part of the answer is an innovation answer. It’s not necessarily going to be going back to where my parents were or where their parents were because there’s a huge amount of value in plastics. There really is. I mean there are so many things that are made out of plastic. But I do think finding alternative uses, if it doesn’t go through our recycle facility and come out the back end as another water bottle or another soda bottle, then maybe there’s an alternative use for it. And that’s why we highlighted this company today. 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

And to Jim’s point, I think in terms of the thinking of the people and the employees in the organization. So it would be easy for us to go just build more of the same capacity that we’ve built for the last 40 years to make plastics. But now we’re starting to look at each other and say, “Whoa, we’re going to need more post- consumer recycled material. We’re going to need more blends for customers. We’re going to need to find sources out of facilities like yours that we can take back in through either chemical recycling, all the way back to feedstock,” in which case, that’s one less well you’ve got to drill or mechanical recycling back into another product. And that drives a different way of thinking. And then suddenly, without really thinking too much about it, you’ve redeployed your capital into a future investment that’s a lot different than the old investment. 

And the same on energy. If we set as — and we will be a carbon-neutral company. The only debate we’re having internally is what year we declare we’re going to be carbon-neutral. But we can do it, because we’ve shown ourselves that we can grow and still reduce CO2 emissions. And technologies are coming that may even allow us beyond trees to scrub some of this back out of the air. Now we’ve got to find uses for that CO2, and what do we do with it? How do we make product out of it? 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

Right. You touched on the fact that plastics is a large part of the conversation because of ocean plastics. And Marc, I know you have a personal connection to oceans that has kind of driven your thinking around helping to clean up the ocean. So maybe talk a little bit about why you’re so passionate about helping to clean up the oceans and where you see progress being made or not being made in that respect. 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO 

Well, part of this planetary emergency that we’re in right now is around the oceans. We look at the health of the oceans, and there’s 2 major issues in the oceans. One, of course, is acidification. The ocean is getting much hotter all of a sudden. And the reason why is because it’s trying to sequester that carbon that’s in the atmosphere that basically that 280 gigatons of carbon that should not be there. And that’s kind of the premise of why we need the 1 trillion trees. 

The second major issue in the oceans is that, according to the World Economic Forum that we were just in last week in Davos, by 2050, only less than 30 years from now, we’ll have more plastic in the ocean than fish. Well, who wants a plastic ocean? That is not something that any of us are going to tolerate, and we’ve got to stop that now. 

And if you look at the issue of how that plastic is getting into the ocean, there are 10 major rivers in the world that are basically the source of dumping of the plastics that we’re talking about into the ocean. So what we’ve done is, we’ve talked about multi-stakeholder dialogues and multi-stakeholder action. We’ve united governments, foundations, major educational universities, entrepreneurs. And we have called for RFPs through our Benioff Ocean Initiative to start to deploy very advanced river-cleaning machines. In these 10 core rivers, we’ve deployed — or about to deploy the first one through a partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation in Panama. In fact, when we called for RFPs on this, we got over 100 RFPs from the major governments who all realized that they’re dumping this plastic, and they want to stop it, but they also want to get paid to stop it. So we have to fund it. We have to buy the machines. We have to deploy the machines. We have to maintain the machines, and — but we got to get the plastic out of the ocean. That’s the #1 thing. And one of the key ways is this exactly what you said, source reduction. 

There’s also been other entrepreneurs who have deployed devices into the middle of the ocean to kind of grab plastic out of the great ocean plastic patch that’s out there. This is something that should be on all of our minds in terms of the health of the ocean. It’s not just about conservation and protection, which is extremely important. It’s not just about of acidification and the temperatures of the ocean, but we have to find ways to get this plastic out of the ocean. 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director

Well, and Marc, it’s so much more cost-effective and efficient to do it at the rivers, right, than to do it in the ocean. I mean if you’re in 40-foot seas trying to collect plastics, which I think a lot of it ultimately breaks down and sinks, right? But in the rivers, and that’s where — if that’s — if there’s 12 rivers or whatever that are sourced, it’s so much more cost-effective to do it in the rivers and so much more efficient. You collect a lot more of it coming out of the rivers than trying to go out in the middle of the Great Pacific garbage patch. 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

And when we talked about the value chain alliance that we put together, we quickly raised $1.5 billion to go address this. And we’re going to showcase technologies and ways to do this. But the reason we focused on these 10 countries and 10 rivers in Asia primarily was because as our quality of life grew in Europe and in West — and in North America, we built infrastructure. So we have great infrastructure right now. 

I would argue that long term, we don’t want all this material to go to landfill either. We want to recycle it and find other uses. But we have infrastructure to manage 96%, 97% of all those solid waste that we generate gets well managed here. If you go to those countries, 75% of all their solid waste goes to an open dump, and a lot of it is within 100 meters of a beach. So when weather happens, it all washes out to the ocean. 

The growth of the middle-income populations in places like Thailand, Vietnam, even in India, has been so fast that the infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep up. So what we’re doing in both cases, whether it’s cleanup or whether it’s build that infrastructure, we’re really kind of going in and showing governments, here’s a solution. Here’s what it takes. Here’s how to put a business model in place. And for some of us, that’s an opportunity for business there, but it’s also a way to get them to address the issue and make sure that we don’t add to a problem. And so that this prognostication that there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050 doesn’t come true. If we act, that won’t be the case. 

Hayley Romer; Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

Right. I think it’s good that we can all sit here and have this conversation. One of the things that I talked about with Secretary Kerry earlier is that it’s hard to visualize change. But you had your 2 daughters up here earlier, Jim. I often think about the future through the lens of my children. Their school has this thing called No Waste Wednesday, where every Wednesday, you can only bring things that are meant to be brought back home. We can’t throw anything out. And I think when that starts at a really young age, they start to develop really good habits naturally. And ultimately, they will be the change that we are aiming to see. 

But as we think about building that change for them now, and all the things we’re discussing are not necessarily things that they see. What are the things that we can be doing, perhaps with our local communities, to demonstrate for our children or for others within the community, the action that they can take and showing them that it does make a difference today and not just for the future? 2050, that feels far, especially for a child. 30 years from now, they can’t envision that. But what are the things that, as corporations, we can be doing and talking about with the local community? 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director 

I mean Secretary Kerry talked about this. I talked about it a bit in my remarks, and that is that education, whether it is education at my daughter’s level or whether it’s education, honestly, sometimes, at our level, we need more education than they do. They seem to understand it better than I do. But I think education is such a critical component. I think that’s why Secretary Kerry focused on it. And once people understand the problem, I think part of the problem around climate change has been that people haven’t really fully understood the problem. And so once we understand the problem — I mean case in point would be the fact that when Marc came and we first met him, he talked about the trees issue. I didn’t realize that, and it makes such perfect sense that trees — I mean they use carbon. That’s their oxygen, if you will. And the fact that we’ve cut down half the world’s trees in, what, 200 years, something like that, I mean it’s — and gone from 6 trillion to 3 trillion. Honestly, as he said, there’s nobody that’s anti-tree, but there just was kind of a lack of education, even at my part. And look, I’m a CEO of a big company. So I think the education component is the most important piece. And then once the education is in place, then it’s much easier for our kids or for us to take an active role in fixing the problem. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

So you — does that — work with local municipalities, help put things out there that people can read and that’ll help them understand and things like that? 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director 

We do. We do. I mean we have a campaign called Recycle Often. Recycle Right. And so we absolutely work with our local community partners, with the companies that we do business with. And then, of course, it expands beyond just our business, it expands to our personal lives, which may, in fact, be the bigger issue altogether. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

Right. Employees also, a huge thing to think about. You’re all heading up companies with thousands and thousands of employees and the ability to make a big impact. I was telling Marc earlier that somebody had referenced the fact that Salesforce is a great place for young people to come work, and they want to work. And I think that’s, in large part, because of your leadership and you being vocal about helping to move the world forward and making progress on really significant issues. How do you think about educating your employees on these issues and helping them believe in the things that you believe in? 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO

Well, our employees have families and children, just like all we do. And I think that they realize that we’re stealing our future from our children. We’ve had clean oceans to sail on, and we’ve had clean air. But when you look at what just happened in Australia, where you saw basically 10 million acres or approximately 1 billion trees, 1 billion animals killed in these horrible fires; when you saw in California, 2 million acres or 200 million trees; in Bolivia, 3 million acres, 300 million trees; or in — everybody saw the Amazon on fire in 2019, that’s 2 million acres, that’s where we’re going. So when are we going to say, “Wait a minute, we need to stop.” That’s why I was very proud of what TIME Magazine did. Full disclosure, I own TIME Magazine, but we put Greta Thurman — Greta Thunberg on the cover of TIME Magazine as Person of the Year because here’s this amazing woman, 16 years old. She — Swedish, basically being a spokesperson saying, “Hey, you’re taking my future from me.” And I was very proud of the TIME team for making that decision to put her on the cover and to make her Person of the Year because I think that we are at a moment in time when we can make changes that sequester the carbon. We can become net 0. We can stop the plastic from going to the oceans. We can build this type of plastic that’s able to be recycled and so forth. 

So these are actions that we can take. We understand this is getting super serious, and we don’t really have that much more time. Everybody has — you can kind of see what’s happening. And that’s why I was excited that our own government last week was willing to take such aggressive action. I was like, this is great and that they are bringing the other governments in. They’re saying that they’re going to link aid to other governments that they better start planting trees also to get aligned with this. So I think that’s a tremendous step forward. 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director

I think the sustainability platform is what your population, whether they’re young or old, wants to work on. And you have to get out of the way and empower them to come in and change the way that you do business. 

The financial markets are well developed, right? So they’re going to reward us on financial return or not. And those mechanisms are very strong. But the ESG mechanisms are not very strong, and we’re building those out now. So we’ve got to use this opportunity, and data is a big source of it, to get data in people’s hands and empower them and to allow them to work on the innovations that 10 years from now are going to be the leading innovations in the industry. That’s very empowering. They’ll want to work there, and they want to bring their friends in to work there. 

It’s also what our customers demand. I would say almost 80% of everything we do today has a sustainability aspect to it because one of our customers or somebody in the value chain is trying to solve a problem and we can help them create the next generation of materials. 

And just like in data, data scientists have become like this growing skill that we don’t have enough of. Life cycle analysis is the same in our industry. We don’t have enough people that really truly understand the life cycle analysis and the impact of all the decisions and trade-offs that they make. 

So Marc gave a good example with the trees on what the life cycle is and what that does. When you get into selection and deselection of materials and you think you’re moving in the right direction, sometimes you’re not. We also have to design our future energy, whether it’s solar or wind or batteries for cars or energy grids so that at the end-of-life with that waste, we know what we’re going to do with that because that could be an even bigger problem than the plastic waste issue. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

Right. We’ve covered a lot of ground so far, I think. And just before we go, a lot of people in the audience here are small business owners. And while it’s great to hear you 3, who are large business heads, talk about the things that you’re doing, the impact you have, we know that it’s not easy on business per se to make the changes that are necessary ultimately to see the impact that you need. Could you give our audience some advice if they had a small business on steps they could take or ways in which they could, let’s say, have less fear about the potential negative impact on their business return today that could ultimately help the environment? Anyone who want to take it? Jim, you want to start? 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director

I would say, when we spun out Dow last year as kind of the new Dow, our tagline was Seek Together. And we put it out there for a reason. It wasn’t because we thought we had every answer to everything, but we’ve had the capabilities to work with small business owners to come up with solutions. You don’t have to do it alone. You can find alliances like the one we created on the plastic waste alliance. You can find technology innovation partners that will work with you to help you solve a problem. And sometimes, just the power of 2 or 3 of you getting together opens your eyes to something you didn’t even know existed. 

So don’t — even if you’re a small company, don’t hesitate to reach out to a large company to maybe partner on a project. We’re going to have to all work together to solve this. And we can also bring — the big companies can also maybe even bring local governments into the equation because they may be part of the source of the recyclable material we need for the future. 

Hayley Romer; Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic

That’s good advice. Seek Together. Marc, how about you? 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO 

Well, one of the reasons that I wrote the book Trailblazer is because I felt executives need more direct advice. When I went to business school, all the topics that we just went through were not talked about. In many business schools, they’re still not. Topics like sustainability and equality, this is not the business school narrative today. So we need more education, number one. 

Number two is when we started Salesforce 21 years ago, we put 1% of our equity, all of our product and our time into a foundation. It was very easy because we had no equity, we had no time, we had no people, product. But we do have 50,000 people today. We have $160 billion market cap. We’ll do $21 billion in revenue in the next fiscal year. And when I look out at that, because we did that, we’ve been able to give away more than $300 million in grants. We run 40,000 nonprofits and NGOs for free on our service. We’ve done 4.5 million hours of volunteerism. And that type of work, that is — business is the greatest platform for change. You can integrate your business into these issues, and you can ignite your employees by making that decision. 

Like I said, every company is about shareholders and stakeholders. And you can make basic decisions like deciding to go net 0. One of the crises we have here in our country is our public schools. I have adopted a public school. Every person, I hope, in this room has adopted a public school. They need our help. Salesforce has adopted. Every Senior Vice President is required to adopt a public school and lead the mentorship and ownership of that school. We’ve adopted 170 in 2 school districts. Those types of actions, business can take. We don’t just have to be about shareholder return. We don’t have to just be about the business of business is business. We can be transformational forces on the planet at a time when we need it more than ever. This is a great opportunity for everybody to participate. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

And this is why you have the ability to make such impact, which is great. Jim? 

James C. Fish, Waste Management, Inc. – President, CEO & Director

I would say that not only is this conversation not limited to big companies, but actually, it should be driven by — honestly, if you think about the percentages within the United States, it should be driven by small business because small business is 70% of the workforce in the United States. So while it’s very healthy that Jim Fitterling reached out to me, I’m not sure there’s ever been a conversation between a CEO of Dow Chemical and a CEO of Waste Management. Prior to when we sat down, he called me or reached out to me through his office and said, “Look, I’d like to sit down and talk about plastics and talk about sustainability next time you’re in New York.” And I made a pretty quick response back saying, look, that’s — I think that’s a fantastic opportunity for 2 companies that don’t normally — other than we probably have a customer relationship with them. But at the CEO level, we really haven’t had much in the way of conversation. 

So I would say that small businesses can do the same thing. It doesn’t have to be Dow Chemical and Waste Management. It can be small businesses, having conversations with other small businesses that they might not normally talk to, to push forward this dialect around these big, big macro issues. These big macro issues are not just going to be solved by a big business. We’ve talked about the private sector. But the private sector is very, very much inclusive of small business. 

Hayley Romer;Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher;The Atlantic 

Yes. Really, really inspiring. And why don’t we end on this note. Business is the greatest platform for change, as Marc said. Thank you, all you tremendous business leaders, and thank you for joining us. 

James R. Fitterling, Dow Inc. – CEO & Director 

Thank you. 

Marc R. Benioff, salesforce.com, inc. – Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO  

Thank you. 

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