Do we need a red light before going green?

Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's founder, chairman and chief executive, discusses U.S. companies' efforts in going green.
Written by Marc Benioff, Contributor
Marc Benioff

perspective It seems of late as if every company in America has introduced a new environmental initiative.

Dell is planting a tree for every PC it sells, Staples is embracing solar power, and Wal-Mart is rolling out energy-efficient stores. My company, Salesforce.com, also launched a program designed to move us towards being a "carbon neutral" company in 2007.

Still, critics remain unimpressed, dismissing the efforts of many companies, including my own, for charging ahead on a "green crusade."

A scientist lambasted Dell's effort in The New York Times, saying that its tree planting initiative will do "little or nothing to help slow climate change". In an article published by The Register, environmentalist lobby group Friends of the Earth criticized carbon offsetting--one of the tenets of our environmental initiative--as "a dangerously misleading activity" because it could "fail to change the behavior producing CO2 in the first place." And, Tom Borelli, partner in an investment company, the Free Enterprise Action Fund, is all over the news suggesting that companies (like Citigroup) have no business embracing green policies and that such commitments to these programs are irresponsible to shareholders.

Overall, these skeptics imply that political leaders, not corporations, are the only ones who can take the lead to help preserve our planet. I couldn't disagree more.

The people who work at corporations have the desire to make positive changes, and with the right partners, companies have the power to make a difference. We give our employees four hours a month, or six days a year, in paid leave to go out and do work in the community. By expanding the program to include our partners and vendors we have seen even greater impact. Real change can happen when broad groups of people band together for a common goal.

Anyone who says that investing in planting trees or carbon offsets is not doing enough or investing too much in the wrong initiative is missing the point. We all have a choice: we can do nothing while we wait for everyone to agree on a position and wait for policy makers to introduce environmental stewardship--or we can get started now.

With the earth heating up, ice caps melting and oceans rising, we can't wait. We've tapped experts including Clean Air-Cool Planet, NativeEnergy, and Conservation International for guidance and research. We've begun to neutralize the effect of greenhouse gas emissions from our offices, data centers and travel activity by investing in renewable energy projects. These investments will help finance the construction of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe St. Francis Wind Farm in South Dakota, the Kasigluk Alaska wind project, a family farm wind project, a family dairy farm methane energy project, and an international carbon sequestration project in the Makira forest of Madagascar.

We will continue with activities such as instituting recycling, subsidizing commuter travel and assessing office equipment. Employees understand that more sweeping changes can be made by a group of 2,000 people working in unison. To that end, will be setting up a Sustainability Council in 2007 that will examine current activities and investigate other things we can do to help thwart the current climate crisis.

We have been inspired by the way the technology industry has in many ways led this green charge. I salute NEC for its innovative recycling and tree planting program. I also commend Sun Microsystems for serving as an early role model and providing servers running lower-power chips and committing to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. And I laud Intel for its use of renewable resources and reduction in waste. I'm proud to be part of an industry that has placed such a strong commitment to being environmentally responsible.

How can anyone say corporations don't have a role here? We are all stakeholders in this planet. We all care about its future. Let's stop arguing about whose role it is to initiate and work together to become a force for change.

Editorial standards