Posted in: thought leadership

18th September 2018

A Strong Wave of Hope in a Sea of Fear

By Halla Tómasdóttir

Last week I attended the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Governor Brown, Michael Bloomberg and an inspiring group of co-chairs successfully convened thousands of global leaders from business, civil society and beyond who are determined to lead the global transformation needed to bend the emissions curve to be on track to well-below 2 degrees global warming by 2020. As island nations urged in Paris, we need to aim for “1.5 to stay alive”. That‘s the call The B Team is echoing. All companies, countries and cities need to hear that call, and aim for a just transition to Net-Zero by 2050.

Bold leaders, including private and public sector Summit attendees and community leaders and climate justice activists demonstrating outside, are already answering that call, inspiring others to join them and challenging the world to raise ambition further. We have seen a lot of progress in recent years, but as our inspiring B Team Leader, Christiana Figueres repeatedly tells us, it is still not enough. The science gives us plenty of reason to be fearful, but I left San Francisco more hopeful than I have been for a long time. Let me tell you why.

Groundbreaking Dialogues

Alongside this remarkable Summit, The B Team hosted a dialogue between CEOs and union leaders to discuss how we can make sure that the move to a renewable, zero carbon economy is a just and fair transition that leaves no one behind. Our fearless Vice-Chair, Sharan Burrow, brought together leaders who too often find themselves on the opposite sides of a table. This time we brought them together at a round table and I was blown away by the sharing and leadership exhibited from all in the discussion.

We also found common ground—a wholehearted agreement that only by bringing together all stakeholders will we be able to successfully navigate the transformation the planet and our communities desperately need. We also brought together CEOs, visionaries and tech leaders to discuss the future of work and what principles should guide us as we navigate the technological disruption ahead. In both of those dialogues I heard a yearning for a new social contract and for the tech industry to embrace leadership when it comes to the ethical and human dimensions of the AI transformation.

The power of such dialogues, and in bringing together these groups of sometimes unlikely partners, is clear. And exemplifies the simple fact that if we want to transform our world, we have to accept we can‘t do it by acting alone. Brave collaboration, lifelong learning and bold dialogue can help unlock solutions in our businesses and to the world‘s biggest challenges.

Technology Sector Leadership

Our courageous B Team Leader, Marc Benioff, played no small role this week as he announced that Salesforce, along with 20 other technology companies, pledged to step up on the climate front. His inspiring remarks at the GCAS opening were full of practical advice as to what we can do to be part of the solution. And Salesforce openly shares how they have gone carbon neutral. Marc generously hosted our B Team Leaders and guests for several groundbreaking dialogues. He also hosted his own spectacular event where John Kerry and Jane Goodall gave moving addresses on our ocean crisis. I know I was not alone to be brought to tears by international treasure Jane Goodall’s wisdom and passion. How grateful we should all be for her relentless advocacy and gentle leadership.

While I was inspired by all that Marc Benioff and his Ohana at Salesforce did this week, it is really his everyday leadership that impresses me the most. The Salesforce culture is unlike any other. It starts with a sign in the Salesforce Tower lobby that invites us to make a difference with this statement: "Blaze your trail to a better world." At Salesforce it is a fundamental belief that each and every one of us can make a positive difference. Employees receive days off each year to positively contribute to the environment and the company repeatedly takes on causes that matter to their Ohana, from fighting for LBGQTI rights to being one of the first companies to take a public stance and action on pay equality.

During a lunch dialogue amongst our own B Team Leaders, Marc urged us to never forget that leadership is about embracing human values and businesses who only care about making the next dollar are contributing to the deterioration of our democracy. Marc models purpose-driven and principled leadership and reaps rewards accordingly—in achievements and profits. Salesforce consistently outperforms financially and ranks first in the eyes of both prospective and current employees along with customers.

Courageous Climate Leadership

Fortunately, Marc is not the only leader modeling a better way. B Team Leaders, Mary Robinson, Paul Polman, Christiana Figueres, Sharan Burrow and David Crane brought together global CEOs to talk about how we can collectively find the courage to raise our ambition when it comes to climate leadership. A powerful conversation followed and I was blown away by how much the private sector is already doing to accelerate a net-zero economy by 2050.

We have CEOs of industrial companies who are accelerating ambition for a better future, faster by aiming beyond net-zero and working their way toward becoming net positive. We have others who are not far along, but are engaging in bold dialogues and radical collaboration to go further. Many of these leaders are humble in admitting to experiencing deep fear as they raise their ambition and some experience little support from their boardrooms.

Despite this fear, each has experienced deep satisfaction as they witness great progress on the back of raising their ambition. Ambitious climate goals lead to innovation, and we are capable of doing so much better when we set them. We can get this done, if we choose to. As Al Gore powerfully stated in his closing remarks, "it is not a question of if we can, it is a question of if we will."

This transformation calls for a different kind of leadership. Conformity is no longer an option. We need leaders with a strong moral compass, courage and enough humility to decide to serve a greater good so that we may leave the world as we should for the next generation. For those who are not moved by the moral argument, rest assured—those at the forefront are reaping economic growth and financial rewards beyond "doing business as usual."

I urge you to join the courageous climate leadership movement. To engage in and convene groundbreaking and bold dialogues in your company, in your sector, city and country. To set ambitious targets, take on brave action and prepare for new measures of success. Success that isn’t borrowed from future generations, but restores our planet and builds a more equitable future for all.