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Salesforce faces incredulity over “net zero” claims

"We believe that companies should be able to claim they’re net zero if they’re fully committed to decarbonization..."

On track to win 100 meter gold at an Olympic event in the 2040s.

Salesforce faced incredulity this week for conjuring up its own definition of achieving “net zero” – the $207 billion software business saying that companies should be able to claim that they are net zero if they are “fully committed” to decarbonisation, irrespective of their achievements in cutting their own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Salesforce claims in a sustainability FAQ to have already achieved “net zero residual emissions” – even as emissions from its operations and value chain have actually gone up in absolute terms year on year. (Its own reporting shows a rise from 954,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, to 1,096,000 in 2022, and 1,338,000 in 2023.)

It says it has achieved “net zero” (its own definition of this) by using “removal carbon credits” or offsets and “avoidance carbon credits”.

Via Salesforce's "impact report" spanning Febrary 2022 - January 2023.

The software company freely admits that its definition of “net zero” is not supported by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)’s framework – a flawed but still more rigorous approach that has been adopted by over 3,300 companies worldwide. SBTi-validated emissions reduction programmes do not allow the use of offset programmes to achieve more than 10% of emissions reductions.

(Arguably ironically, Salesforce sells a product called “Net Zero Cloud” that it proudly claims “supports and aligns with the SBTi” – something its own approach to reporting sustainability data clearly does not do...)

Salesforce net zero claims: Made up terms...

In a Salesforce FAQ on its net zero claims published in August 2022 but noticed more widely by professionals in the space this week, it admits that “SBTi’s definition of net zero states that, in order for a company to claim it has achieved net zero, it must reduce 90% of its gross emissions before offsetting any remaining emissions with carbon removal credits only (no carbon reduction or carbon avoidance credits).”

“Salesforce believes that — as a planet — we must reduce our emissions by 90% and do so as quickly as possible. But, realistically, we may not achieve this milestone until 2040-50… Under SBTi’s definition, no company can claim they are net zero for decades. We believe that companies should be able to claim they’re net zero if they’re fully committed to decarbonization and have demonstrated they’re on the path to achieving the deep emissions reductions that will put the planet on a 1.5 degree trajectory, if they’re also compensating for their remaining emissions with high-quality carbon credits to achieve net zero residual emissions…”

That approach was ridiculed this week by one experienced GreenOps specialist, Mark Butcher, who said on LinkedIn: “Personally I don't think companies should be able to simply invent a new piece of terminology just because they don’t like the version used by everyone else as it doesn't suit their narrative… Using their logic, can you all please congratulate me on winning the 100m gold in the 2036 Olympics. Obviously according to Salesforce this is OK because I started running last week, and I'm definitely going to meet the required standard.

“This kind of marketing led nonsense really undermines any good progress they might actually be making and makes it impossible for their customers to accurately report their own emissions.”

See also: AWS's new carbon footprint tool criticised

The debate comes a month after the SBTi removed Amazon from its list of validated companies, listing it as having an “expired commitment” – Amazon responded on August that “in 2020, Amazon committed to setting voluntary targets with the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi). Since then, SBTi’s requirements for submission changed… it remains difficult for us to submit in a meaningful and accurate way.”

Salesforce meanwhile also said: “We define 100% renewable energy as purchasing enough renewable energy to match all electricity used globally within our operations on an annual basis” – another approach that has come in for sustained criticism from sustainability experts.

Join the debate on LinkedIn