Episode 29

Future ancestors

“From this absolute belief that we could democratise an industry, to the belief that we can also help to democratise the society we live in.”

A co-founder of Salesforce Europe, Dr. David Dempsey has been a standard bearer for sustainable business for many years. Taking a moment at our recent ESG Forum, David talks to Hg’s CSO, Caroline Löfgren, about the responsibilities of a “future ancestor” and the unique position of business as a changemaker: more flexible than government and more powerful than the individual.

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Episode Transcript

Caroline Löfgren

Hello everyone, and welcome to Orbit, the Hg podcast. I'm here today with David Dempsey from Salesforce, who's joined us morning for our annual ESG forum.

Dr David Dempsey

Same here Caroline. Glad to be here.

Caroline Löfgren

We've got a bit of time today to talk about ESG and sustainability, and obviously you've had a long career in the tech industry, so I'm really keen to hear your views on the topic. Let's start with a question around yourself and your passion for ESG and sustainability. What makes you passionate about this topic?

Dr David Dempsey

It's an interesting question, and I was thinking about it before I came here because I can't ever remember a time where I, it just sort of came to me that ESG was where I wanted to focus, or sustainability. But I think gradually as I've gotten older, I've just come to the realisation that this is such a big factor for the world. It's such an existential issue we're facing and that the reality is that it's within all of our powers to do something about it, and we need to do something about it. And particularly, as I'm getting a little bit older, you know, I'm 67 this year, you begin to think about your first reaction. Say, it's not my problem because I'm not gonna be around forever. But then you begin to think, well, hold on.

I'm a future ancestor, you know, at some stage or other, I'm going to hand this over to some group in the future that I don't even know. Whether it'll be related to me or my family, for your family. And really, we just have to do the best that we can at the time. We're here to make sure that what we hand on is fit for purpose. So I can't say there was a particular time that made me passionate about, but just as I've grown, I'm getting more and more interested in this and I can see the issue that we face, but also I can see that we have the power to change it and the power to make things better.

Caroline Löfgren

And is there anything specific... obviously ESG and sustainability is a very broad topic, right? There's a lot that goes into it. And is there any specific sub-topics that you are more passionate about and you've spent more time during your career focusing on?

Dr David Dempsey

Yeah, I think that it's very interesting because this is such a big issue and it's so fundamental to us all. But because it's such a big issue, it takes a lot of heavy lifting to solve it. And eventually that heavy lifting will be done by governments and by the structure of society. But the reality is that there's 8 billion people here now. And each one of us has our own part to play in solving for this. And I think that while governments will eventually do this heavy lifting and will do the big solutions at scale, I think they're not very agile. And we are agile. You know, I control what I do today. You control what you do today. And I think that there's an onus on us to use our agility to solve for now or to make the changes, the small changes now that will eventually add to those macro changes that we need.

So I think that while governments and civil society is thinking about this and wondering how to get us head around this big problem, this massive problem, all of our little fixes and all of the little things that we can do are what we should do now, and we'll help to move this on.

And for that reason, I think that businesses are much more agile than than governments because we control in the same way as you and I individually control what we do today. So our businesses control what we do, and we can move much faster. And I think that we can influence much more than governments will. And I think that for that reason, I think that's the power of industry, the power of, of your business and my business is that we can, we're fast, we can do the things we have to do now because everything we do now has a multiplied effect in the future.

We're coming to all these tipping points around climate and around nature. And the longer we don't address those challenges, the closer we get to the tipping point, the closer we get to this irreversible situation where we can't undo what we're, what we're doing. So I think, in answer to your question, I'm passionate about our individual contribution but mostly about business. Cause business can do a lot and do it quicker and do it right now. Does that make sense?

Caroline Löfgren

It does. And I guess on that topic, you've been in the technology sector industry for a long, long time, and you were part of bringing Salesforce to Europe to over two decades ago now. How have you seen sustainability potentially change or become bigger in the tech industry in general and more specifically within Salesforce?

Dr David Dempsey

It's interesting because you're right, I'm one of the original three founders of Salesforce in Europe. It seems like a long time ago - it's 24 years ago now - and what attracted me to Salesforce at that time, I was in the IT business before that, but in enterprise computing. And it wasn't as agile going back to that agile thing and Salesforce, the mission of Salesforce was to make enterprise computing as easy to consume as buying a book on Amazon. No, of course it wasn't. It's never easy, enterprise computing is complex, but I think that Salesforce was a values driven company from the very start period. Four values at the time: value of trust because we were a new business, we were asking our customers to trust us, trust that we would stay in business, trust us with their data, trust us that we could do what we said we do.

We were software as a service company, which was completely new business model at the time in that, you know, traditional software would've been a big upfront license cost, and you paid and whether you ever used it or not, it didn't matter. The company had been paid. But in our case, we were saying, look, use our service and pay us on a monthly basis. So for that reason, we needed you to be successful for us to be successful. So that customer connection was there at the very start. But the other two values then were innovation because we were an innovative product. And the last one was equality. And when you think about equality, and when you think about sustainability or you think about climate, really climate in my mind and sustainability in my mind is just the next extension of this equality for Salesforce in the early stages.

And still we saw ourselves as the democratisation of the software industry where we made enterprise computing power available to every business. Not just to the big banks that could afford the big ticket license sales, but to the mom and pop businesses that were starting up. And that that democratisation empowered those smaller businesses and it empowered through a philanthropic model where we give 1% of our equity, 1% of our employee time, and 1% of our product. And not-for-profits, it empowered those not-for-profit groups with the same software as the biggest companies in the world. And I think that that really was the start of sustainability. It didn't start as sustainability, it started as equality, but then as the problems of the world, they've morphed from making society more equal into now making society more sustainable. And I think that that's been really the journey that the Salesforce has been on, the journey that I've gone on with Salesforce, that from this absolute belief that we could democratise an industry now to the belief that we can also, businesses like yours and mine can help to democratise the society we live in and, and you know, what that society will look like and how everybody can have a fair and just existence.

So it's a roundabout answer but I think it isn't as if there was a hard, "today we're in sustainability". It was just a natural morph of our values over time.

Caroline Löfgren

What would you say has been tech's role in driving the sustainability agenda? And really going back to what you said initially that it's up to businesses before governments are there to take action or speed up their actions. The agile businesses play a big role in doing that. What would you say is the role of tech in this?

Dr David Dempsey

I think that tech has a couple of different roles there. I think at its most fundamental level, tech lives in data and survives on data, and the industry is built on data. And I think that the reality of the issues we're facing now is that we need to understand the data to solve because, you know, it's very easy to confuse us all and say we have to stay within one and a half degrees of warming, or that we've got a carbon envelope of 500 gigatons. But it's hard to understand that at the day-to-day operational level. So I think the good thing that the tech industry does it lives in data, it lives in micro data points. And I think that we're very good at surfacing data, and we're very good then at combining those individual data points to see the power of change that can come from being aware of the data and then actioning what that data is telling us.

So I think that that's one of the things. I think the other thing is this whole ability of technology and innovation and new thinking to bring fundamental technical change to how we approach the climate issue. Because I think that we've survived as a planet society, we've survived on natural solutions, nature-based solutions where the trees and the oceans have been our natural sequesters of carbon and they've kept our planet in a balanced state, but now we're just putting so much carbon into the atmosphere. I think that we do have to bring some technology to help to remove some of that, or to help to reduce it. And I think that this whole ecopreneur phrase... Ecopreneurs are coming from the tech industry, by and large, and I think that they're the ones who bring technology to address some of the climate issues and some of the sustainability issues that we're facing as well. The other thing about the tech industry is it's an amplification, tech is everywhere. It touches all of our lives in some shape or form. And I think that there's that power of amplification as well to bring the situation home to everybody who needs to be aware of it.

Caroline Löfgren

And do you see an increasing demand from your customers when it comes to sustainability solutions? And how do you meet that demand from Salesforce?

Dr David Dempsey

Absolutely. We have about 150,000/160,000 customers around the world from multiple sizes: from SMEs through the very biggest companies. And there is that demand. It probably came to us early because we had that fundamental value of trust. We are generally trusted by our customers. We've grown with them. Our customers over the 24 years that we've been in business have looked to us to be innovators. When there's a new space that they need to go to, when they're ready to go there as an individual business, generally Salesforce is there ahead of them and they'll look to us and say, okay, we trust you. Help us to get to this space. And for that reason around sustainability, it's something that our customers are saying to us, this is a big problem.

It's a big problem that you've addressed earlier, help us to get there. And I think the one real secret sauce, or the real power that we bring is that the Salesforce platform is only a single platform. So it doesn't matter whether you're driving your customer business, any parts of your business on Salesforce, if you want them to look at your sustainability, your footprint, or your actions: you use the same data all on single platform. So it means that it's all integrated into your business. So I think that's been one key part of it. And I think the other thing is that when we started on the sustainability journey, probably about 10 years ago now in earnest, we started to measure our own footprint. And we are the very same as all of your portfolio companies. How do we measure this?

And we scrambled and we'd looked for electricity bills and filing cabinets and invoices from here and there, and we pulled 'em all together and we dropped 'em into a spreadsheet and it was a big piece of work to do it, and it was taking us months to do this sort of stuff. So we said, eventually, why are we doing this manually? Why don't we use the power of Salesforce? We dropped it onto the Salesforce platform. And then to solve our own problem, we then produced our own sustainability data. And then that morphed into net zero cloud, which we said we know how to solve for ourselves. We've got it on the Salesforce platform. We've got 150/160,000 customers who use the Salesforce platform, so why don't we make our product an in-house product available to our customers? And that became Salesforce Net Zero Cloud. So, the reality is we're all looking for the same data points. So what works for us will work for you and for any other company out there. So that's our journey and how we got into this space, to the extent that we're in it now, it wasn't a single big decision. It was just a gradual need for our own business that translated into the same need for our customers.

Caroline Löfgren

And what about Salesforce's own net zero journey and targets?

Dr David Dempsey

We're a Net Zero company now but there's a certain green privilege in businesses like ours, we're in a position to do this because we run good businesses and our businesses are commercially healthy, so we can afford to address these issues earlier than most, we don't have the challenge of making payroll next month. So for that reason, you can look at these other societal things, but there is an element of privilege with that. And sometimes I think that, we have to be careful not to be seen to preach because of that, the tech industry in general.

Well, and we're able to address this earlier, but the reality is we have to bring everybody together with us. So we're in that net zero company now. So we obviously produce carbon. We're lucky in that we don't manufacture physical things. So most of our usage comes from energy at data centers. Probably about 80% of our footprint comes from energy at data centers. So we look to offset that. We look to use renewables or renewable energy to power those data centers. And then for any carbon, we do our carbon accounting. We've got about 1.3 million megatons of carbon every year in Salesforce. And we try and reduce that as much as we can. We're on the trajectory to reduce that over the next 10 years to cut that in half.

And then when we have a net amount left that we can't reduce, that we can't get out of our business, then we offset that with high quality carbon offset. So that gives us the net zero position. But again, it's a position of privilege. And, you know, I think that I would say to you and to all of the businesses in your company's portfolios, that we should treat that privilege with respect. Because the reality is that there is no single solve. I can't solve if Salesforce is net zero or if any other business is net zero, it doesn't solve for the world. There's only one solve, one global solve. We've gotta all solve this single solution together. So there's no point in me being perfect or you being perfect if the rest of the world isn't going with us.

Caroline Löfgren

And for some of the businesses that may not have that privilege or may struggle both cause there's loads of other things happening within the business, but also may struggle to find the right data to understand their footprints and especially for smaller businesses, what are your top tips on how to go about doing it?

Caroline Löfgren

I think the first one and the most fundamental one is, is to get the data, understand the data. And, you know, this can seem a little bit daunting, but the reality is, it's your business. It's my business, so I have all the data. It's absolutely my business. So it's not that it's impossible to find, I just need to understand and drill into my business. So I think that fundamentally you have to understand what the carbon cost or what the societal sustainability cost of your business is. And then, the next step would probably be overwhelmed when you find this out because it's "how am I gonna solve for this"? But when you look at your business, you'll often find that you're doing things that already fit well in the ESG space.

So, you don't have to solve the big net zero solve right at the very start. But look at the three sides of ESG: environmental, the governance side, and you look at the things around the makeup of your cohort of employees. Diversity, inclusion, what you're doing in the communities that you operate in. So look at the areas where you're already have started some stuff. Where you're already making progress and then chip away at the big goal, slowly, slowly chip away at it, and eventually you'll work your way down through. So I don't think you need to go to try and solve everything on the first day, I think will be my strong advice.

Just look at where you can make changes quickly, where you can make changes that start to make a difference. And then gradually have a program that will get you so that you know where you want to be in 10 years time or by 2050 and see how you can reduce your carbon footprint. So I think that the challenge is to see what you can change in your business, see what you can cut out of your business, see where there's waste in your business. See where you can get involved in the circular economy. Look at where your emissions are coming from, look at your suppliers to see how to make sure that they're also working with you to reduce the footprint of the overall business. But I think to use real targets that are science-based targets, you have to, there's no point in trying to fudge the truth here because it doesn't solve for anything. So to make sure that what you're working towards is realistic, but it's real as well.

Caroline Löfgren

You're approaching retirement

Dr David Dempsey

This summer? Yeah, not, not that I'm counting. 31st of July, not that I'm counting Okay. Three months to go.

Caroline Löfgren

Yeah. Oh. So with a long career within tech and Salesforce, what are your top tips to business leaders who want to accelerate their sustainability journey?

Dr David Dempsey

I think the one thing that's been true for me is that I never saw myself as being partly values driven, but the reality is, I look back on it, is that I've followed my values and I've tended to work for businesses whose values were aligned to me. And I think the top tip to any business or to any individual is to just understand what those fundamental values are. And once those values are aligned with doing good business and doing business that's good for society or good for the communities that you operate in, then keep them as your north star and don't be pushed off them, or don't let anybody influence you from them, or don't be swayed by the next new thing that's coming. Because the reality is, if you're based in values like that, and if those values are fundamentally good values, I think then everybody benefits from them.

And I think that's probably what I would say to anybody is to make sure that you understand what your own values are and to make sure then that how you do your business stays close to those values. Because the reality is that businesses are such a platform for change. I mean, we just have so much power to change because we just have so much power to influence our customers, so much power to influence the communities that we work in so much power to influence the bigger governments. We shouldn't underestimate the flexibility, the power, the influence, and the trust that our businesses have. So I think staying close, understanding what those values are is staying close to 'em, I think would be my one fundamental piece of advice to any business or to any individual.

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