MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative
Patrick Flynn always asks the question: what is your sustainability superpower?
Written by: Tracey Palmer
The best sustainability strategies start by recognizing what it is you do well, where you have influence, and how you can use your core strengths to drive positive change. Or in other words, as Patrick Flynn says: What’s your sustainability superpower?
A mechanical engineer by trade, Patrick’s first job was designing HVAC systems for high-rise buildings. It showed him up close the failures in the building and construction sector to design for the long term. “With our global built environment contributing to 30-to-40% of global emissions, it naturally drew me into climate change,” he says.
This concern for the climate led Patrick to become an investor in a cleantech venture capital firm, where he focused on green building technologies and software-driven energy efficiency. Soon after, he took a job at IO, a leading global co-location data center provider, where he led sustainability strategy.
At MIT Sloan, Patrick wanted to build a solid business foundation and be part of a vibrant community. “I loved the diversity,” he says of the Sloan community. “That’s what struck me first. It seemed like a program where I could gain a broad amount of perspectives while contributing my own point of view. From the large number of international students, to the diversity of professional backgrounds and professional goals—I felt it right away.” And then there was the sustainability program and action learning. “I felt like I could really hone my skills as an aspiring change-maker with the combination of those two.”
By the time Patrick joined Salesforce in 2015, he was well-prepared to apply his newfound knowledge and experience to the challenge at hand—modernizing an incredibly intricate carbon accounting process. In line with his philosophy about sustainability superpowers, Patrick helped Salesforce set and meet two significant commitments—to support all operations with 100% renewable energy, and to offset all operational and product-related emissions. Way ahead of schedule, Salesforce has already basically achieved both.
“With everything, quality is of the utmost importance,” Patrick says. “We’ve moved as fast as high-quality action allows.”
More recently, the company has aligned long-term commitments to a 1.5 degree Celsius future with a Science Based Target. “The world needs long-term alignment and near-term action,” says Patrick. “That’s why our commitment to nature-based solutions is also vital.”
Salesforce supports the trillion trees initiative via 1t.org and set its own 100 million tree goal. “This is an all-of-the-above moment in the climate emergency,” Patrick adds. “We need all helpful actions executed in parallel, as fast as the highest levels of impact will allow.”
The Sustainability Cloud
With high impact in mind, Salesforce has launched its most comprehensive product yet, Salesforce Sustainability Cloud. Rolled out in 2019, this platform is best understood as a carbon accounting solution that enables organizations to more quickly audit their carbon emissions and take action. Patrick is particularly excited to use the platform to go deeper upstream in his own company’s supply chain. Salesforce has its own goal that suppliers representing 60% of its Scope 3 emissions will set Science Based Targets of their own by 2024.
“Climate change, to me, is the biggest macro-shift ahead for businesses of every sector, size, and geography,” Patrick says. “It will transform energy, agriculture, transportation, financial services, insurance, you name it! So for Salesforce to be there, with our technology platform, to help our customers to take advantage of the opportunities that will come from this shift is really inspiring to me. Our technology in their hands is us using our superpower for climate. And the beautiful thing is—when a customer uses it, the product helps them find their own superpower for climate too.”