Company in the CSR Reporting Spotlight: Salesforce

By Julia Nehring – Report Analyst-Researcher, G&A Institute

In recent months I have been analyzing many dozens of corporate sustainability, responsibility, stewardship, corporate citizenship, and similarly-titled public reports. Many of these are published by very prominent names with well-known brands attached to the corporate name.

For example, you probably know of Salesforce. As many technology companies have done, the enterprise began humbly in a small West Coast residence in 1999, when several entrepreneurs attempted to re-imagine how businesses could utilize computer software.

Today, the company offers a variety of sales, marketing, analytics, and other business services to its 150,000+ clients, which include startups, nonprofits, governments, large corporations, and anything in-between.

Measuring success, between 2017 and 2019 alone, Salesforce’s employee base increased 44 percent and its billions of dollars’ in revenue increased by 58%.

During this period of significant growth, Salesforce has impressively been lauded as a best workplace for diversity, a best workplace for women, and a best workplace overall, among numerous other types of accolades.

The Company’s Reporting Practices

Salesforce discusses these and a range of other accomplishments in its FY19 Stakeholder Impact Report. However, I am not commenting here to heap praise on Salesforce.

Using my lens as a CSR analyst-intern, I will attempt to highlight several reporting frameworks and concepts Salesforce has chosen to use in its most recent report that provide both transparency and promotional value for the company’s practices and accomplishments.

I also offer my own comments and ideas that come from learning about different reporting guidelines from different agencies, as well as reviewing many dozens of corporate CSR reports as a GRI report analyst.

Clicking on any of the links below will take you to G&A resources mentioned about the topic.

ESG Reporting Frameworks

By far the most commonly-used framework worldwide by companies in G&A’s research is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Salesforce includes multiple references to this framework (formally, the GRI Standards) in its content index. (Best practice: including a content index in your company’s report to help users find information quickly.)

However, the report was not prepared “in accordance” with the GRI Standards. Instead, Salesforce opted to reference only certain disclosures and metrics of the GRI framework, as they apparently deemed applicable internally.

The apparent rationale? Since each framework identified in the report — including the GRI Standards, the Task Force on Financial-related Disclosures (TCFD), and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) — define materiality in different ways, Salesforce did “not attempt to formally reconcile the divergent uses of the term materiality”.

In other words, instead of providing a more complete set of disclosures for one of the frameworks, the company opted to in effect dabble in each.

Along with its GRI references, the report includes some SASB references in the content index, and (positively) mentions its support of and use of the TCFD in conducting a climate-related scenario analysis.

I think investors may find this confusing. While Salesforce is ahead of the majority of companies who do not currently acknowledge SASB or TCFD at all, it is difficult for the report reader to discern which disclosures from each framework have been excluded. This does not help to paint a full picture for the reader.

It appears the company does acknowledge this, as it states that, “Over time we will work to expand our disclosures and align more closely to the leading frameworks, even as the frameworks themselves rapidly evolve.” A good practice, I think.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Salesforce is a supporter of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the 17 SDGs). In its report, Salesforce lists 12 SDGs that the company closely aligns with.

However, the company does not explicitly state how each SDG aligns with a particular action or initiative. Providing this level of detail — common practice among companies that discuss SDGs in their reports — Salesforce could show the reader that these are not merely ideals for the company, but that in fact Salesforce is actually taking actions in regards to each stated goal.

Regarding External Review

Ernst & Young was retained to review and provide limited assurance for select sustainability metrics in Salesforce’s report.

The items reviewed cover Salesforce’s reported GHG emissions, energy procured from renewable resources, and carbon credits. A limited level of assurance and review of only GHG data or specified sections is very commonly seen in CSR reports.

The companies that tend to stand out among their peers in our wide and deep research of corporate disclosure are those that have decided (strategically) to obtain reasonable/high assurance, or opt to have the entire report reviewed by credible third party auditors.

Salesforce’s awards and growth speak for themselves — the company is undoubtedly providing great value to its clients and doing so in a way that people admire.

While its Stakeholder Impact report overall does an excellent job at showcasing the company’s progress, in my comments here I covered the above areas to encourage and provoke thoughts of striving for even greater completeness and reader comprehension.

Not just for Salesforce, but for public companies in general with Saleforce’s report as one example.

Epilogue: Why did I decide to review Salesforce?

During my time as an analyst-intern for G&A Institute, my intern colleagues and I analyzed dozens upon dozens of CSR reports in depth over the months, many of which are reports of The Business Roundtable (BRT) companies.

Many BRT CEO members signed on to the re-stated “corporate purpose” statement last summer and we researched the companies’ sustainability / responsibility track records and public disclosure practices.

In our research, we found that:

  • Twenty-nine (29) BRT companies had upward trends for all Yahoo! platform’s sharing of Sustainalytics scores (including those for environment, social, and governance) since 2017.
  • Of these 29, five had CEOs that were identified on the Harvard Business Review’s Top 100 CEOs list
  • Of these five, Salesforce was the only company whose Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) score rose between 2017 – 2018 (from “B” to”A” score)

So, while I certainly do enjoy using Salesforce’s tools at my job, it had no bearing on my decision to analyze the company’s CSR report for this project. The company’s growth in spite of (or because of) its commitment to people and planet is very exciting to see.

I hope that my analysis is helpful to Salesforce and other companies that may be following this corporate responsibility leader’s sustainability journey.

* * * * * * * *

Since her internship as a report analyst, Julie Nehring joined G&A as a Sustainability Analyst. She continues her research role as a member of the G&A team. She pursued an MBA at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and interned at the Caterpillar Inc Data Innovation Lab. Julie previously worked for several years as a project manager for a national environmental consulting firm and for a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer. As the president of her university’s Net Impact chapter, she enjoyed helping colleagues and classmates get involved and volunteer in the community.

Note the views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Governance & Accountability Institute regarding the company.

AT THE NET IMPACT CONFERENCE 2017 – PATH TO PURPOSE

Guest Post by Laura Maio Yague, Sustainability Report Analyst, Governance & Accountability Institute

The Annual Net Impact Conference in the City of Atlanta, Georgia was held on October 26th, 27th and 28th of October and I was one of the fortunate ones to attend. This year was an exceptional event as the organization was celebrating its 25th anniversary under the banner of “Path to Purpose”.

Atlanta live tour

Atlanta welcomed us with an amazing tour “Atlanta Alive: Street Art & Social Justice Tour” during which we discovered the city art scene through its different neighborhoods.

At the same time, we learned and deepen more about its history, social movements and remarkable local figures of the Human Rights like The Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The city history of self-improvement of the city, dealing with racism and diverse social injustices made the tour the perfect starting point to get us ready for the immersion into the incredible experience that Net Impact 2017 had to offer.

“PATH TO PURPOSE” That was the main topic of this year’s annual gathering of Net Impact professionals and guest attendees.  The organizers wanted to make the audience think about what their purpose in life is, where to address the efforts and how to define our career.

The powerful idea of this year’s event was to bring together a large group of passionate students and young professionals from around the world to seek an innovative thinking to find solutions for the most pressing challenges of our time.

An intense and variety of sessions, panels, round-table discussions and activities were programmed for these three days to talk and address different issues about sustainability, environment, governance, social responsibility and social impact.

The sessions embraced topics from different fields and perspectives, ranging from technical to social aspects.   An example: Global Development, Corporate Impact, Food or Startups & Tech. The various panels targeted topics of interest for students and professionals alike. Students could participate in panels such as ‘Building Equity and Inclusion on Campus’ or sessions for One-on-One Coaching, with mentors and experimented professionals.

For those whose careers are taking off and were looking for encouragement, information on specific fields and advise, there were interesting panels which provided personal and professional guidance, such as Careers with Purpose: Building skills-based Volunteering into Any Organization, or ‘How to align Who You Are with What You Do.

The offer was very extensive, and I was really excited for attending many of the sessions.  Facing difficult choices, I finally decided to participate in the following panels:

  • Leading with the Triple Bottom line: Creating Shared Value Through Business’; this panel presented interesting stories and personal experiences of people driving CSR and sustainability forward in their companies.
  • The next wave of strategic Philanthropy and Impact investment’ analyzed the current solutions for companies to get the right financial support.

A few sessions related to food:

  • Farm to trash: Disrupting the Food Waste Epidemic
  • A Dialogue with Monsanto: Our Perspective on Food System For the Future.

Both of these sessions included activities bringing to our table a real case for which the audience was encouraged to find a sustainable solution.

  • NI17 Pitch Competition. I think this session reflected the real meaning and spirit of the conference. Young students presented ideas of either models or real businesses with a social impact. They upheld their work to convince the audience for a vote in order to get some economic resources to turn their dream into a real startup. It was a hopeful and vibrant moment.

In addition, each of the Keynote sessions united the whole audience in the big Auditorium with exceptional speakers sharing their personal experiences and stories.

Speakers shared with us how they built their impact projects related to fair trade, climate change solutions, human rights advocacy, all of them under the idea of following a purpose. They were very driven and motivating.

Derreck Kayongo presenting ‘The Global Soap Project’

I would like to make a special mention for Paul Hawken, Executive Director, Project Drawdown and Derreck Kayongo, CEO, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, for their encouraging and inspiring speeches. It is also remarkable a common point of all the speakers: their positive and resilience attitude to undertake challenges and problems in life.

Paul Hawken, presenting Project Drawdown

World of Coca-Cola Art Gallery

There was also free time to enjoy the city and its tourist attractions, such as the welcome party at the World of Coca-Cola and the Aquarium Sips Under the Sea Party.  Those were enjoyable and  really fun places which provided a cordial and relaxed climate for networking and continue meeting interesting people with common concerns and similar objectives.

Georgia Aquarium

There was a special atmosphere around the whole conference. Net Impact is the right place to elevate and bolster your career. This opportunity to share experiences with a multidisciplinary group of people with similar goals is really motivating.

Through the sessions you are able to do networking, acquire knowledge and discover new fields. It is a very enriching and fulfilling experience. I would highly recommend to anyone whose purpose is to build a society that is sustainable, equitable and fair for all. This is a good place to start to take action.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the Net Impact Conference:  Governance & Accountability Research Analysts Laura at Left Mola Yague (left) and Cher Xue (right).

Laura Malo Yague was graduated from Escuela de Ingenieria y Arquitectura de la Universad de Zaragoza in Industrial Technical Engineering, Industrial Electronics with Diploma in Business Management from IE (Spain).  She recently finished an Advanced Diploma at New York University, in Monitoring and Evaluation (project management for the United Nations, governments and not-for-profits).  Laura is a Corporate Reporting Analyst with G&A Institute.