News

September 19, 2018

The Benioff Ocean Initiative: How Corporations Can Lead On Ocean Science

News Source: Forbes
Author: Priya Shukla

Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, is fond of saying that "the business of business is improving the state of the world."

While seemingly cliché, Benioff and Salesforce have put these words into action. At last week's Global Climate Action Summit, Salesforce led the Step Up Declaration, a series of commitments by several businesses (including Lyft, Cisco, and Bloomberg) to engage in actions that will greatly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Additionally, like the Tower that bears its name in downtown San Francisco, Salesforce aims to be entirely dependent on renewable energy by 2022.

“We believe that business is one of the greatest platforms for change. We are committed to doing our part to step up to the urgent challenge of climate change, ensure a just transition to a low carbon economy and provide a healthy future for all," said Suzanne DiBianca, the Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce.

In 2016, Benioff and his wife, Lynne, donated $10 million to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and founded the Benioff Ocean Initiative. The Benioffs were moved to make this investment in ocean science after Dr. Douglas McCauley’s research about the rapid extinction of sea life throughout the world's oceans made headlines in 2015. Benioff breached Sciencemagazine's paywall, downloaded a copy of the technical publication, and reached out to the UCSB Assistant Professor to better understand the research and begin brainstorming solutions.

When Benioff and Dr. McCauley initially met to discuss the implications of this research, Benioff asked, "What can we do about it?" and the Assistant Professor replied "that's not my job." In response, Benioff suggested that resolving the ocean's extinction crisis required each of them to expand how they defined their respective jobs. Now, as the Initiative Director, Dr. McCauley has the opportunity to tackle extinction, as well as plastic pollution and mining in the oceans.

The Benioff Ocean Initiative is unique in that it publicly crowd-sources ocean problems and then assembles a team of scientific experts and uses $1 million to resolve one of them. By seeking new project ideas every 1-2 years, the Initiative has the flexibility to expand the breadth of ocean issues they attempt to resolve; the Initiative is currently soliciting ocean issues in need of resolution.

According to Dr. McCauley, partnering with the Benioffs and their corporate network provides "rapid access to creative, intellectual, and political resources that make change happen."

One example of these connections manifesting is the 2016 expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Not only is this site culturally and spiritually important for Native Hawaiians, but it is also a hotspot of biodiversity that includes a 4,000-year-old coral. Additionally, Dr. McCauley's research indicates that large predators, such as reef sharks, rely on multiple distant habitats that may have different levels of government protections.

In recognizing the benefits of a larger marine protected area in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the  Initiative convened a panel of ocean conservation leaders to facilitate the expansion of the Monument and helped establish one of the largest protected areas in the world. Additionally, research within the Monument is made possible through the Papahānaumokuākea Research and Conservation Fund, which is furnished by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the Benioffs.

Benioff's and Salesforce's dedication to ocean causes extends beyond their partnership with Dr. McCauley and the USCB Marine Science Institute. In addition to sponsoring a collaborative Ocean Hack earlier this month and a temporary art installation by Lindsey Millikan during the Summit that showcased the influence of climate change on ocean environments, Benioff co-authored this op-edcalling for increasing ocean exploration and conservation efforts.

"I can see the incredible changes that are happening in our oceans", said Benioff during the Summit plenary on Thursday morning, "[but] progress is possible [when we] bring all stakeholders together."