TRANSCRIPT (edited for length and clarity)
VÉRONIQUE LACAPRA, WHOI: Hello to everyone here at the Ocean Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt!
I’m Véronique LaCapra, the host of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s online events series “Ocean Encounters,” and the Director of Special Projects for Advancement at WHOI. Today, I’ll be your moderator for this event about new models for science and industry collaboration in the fight against climate change.
Here to particiate in today’s discussion are
- Sam Harp, the Vice President for Advancement and Chief Marketing Officer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution;
- Whitney Johnston, the Director of Ocean Sustainability for Salesforce; and
- Kathryn Hautanen of Analog Devices, Inc., who joins us via Zoom. Kathryn is the Technology Engagement Program Manager of the Ocean & Climate Innovation Accelerator—we’ll hear more about that shortly.
LACAPRA: I’d like to begin by having each of our speakers say a few words about their organization’s work to address climate change.
KATHRYN HAUTANEN, ADI: Analog Devices is a global semiconductor company that bridges the physical and the digital worlds, transforming real-world signals into insights and actions to improve lives.
Our approach to sustainability is about ensuring we look at the actions of our business and innovating to solve humanity’s toughest challenges like the climate crisis. We have a strong commitment to people and planet. When it comes to the actions of our business and our environmental footprint, we have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
Our innovations help enable the transition to a lower carbon economy. Our expertise in sensing, measuring and power management are critical to enabling solutions across multiple markets such as transportation where our battery management systems help electric vehicles get more mileage out of their batteries, to connectivity where our transceivers for 5G communications reduce the amount of power consumed at cellular base stations.
WHITNEY JOHNSTON, SALESFORCE: Salesforce is an enterprise technology company that helps our customers connect with their customers and provide the best possible experience.
So, you might wonder, why does a technology company get involved in ocean work, and climate work? We’re in a climate crisis. This climate crisis requires urgent action, and it actually requires entire systems change. Everyone has a role to play, and business in particular has a tremendous role to play in order to drive the system changes that we need to see.
A company such as Salesforce that provides services to so many companies around the globe has an incredible network of customers and suppliers. We believe that because of that network, because of that influence, and because of the technology we provide to help those customers be successful, we have a “superpower,” using business as a platform for change.
First we demonstrate, and then we enable, and then mobilize. To demonstrate, we set our own science-based targets, and then work to reduce our emissions. For example, one piece of emissions reductions is our achievement of 100 percent renewable energy across our operations.
But most of a company’s emissions are actually Scope 3 emissions—indirect emissions from throughout the supply chain. So we took a step to have an open dialog with our suppliers through a sustainability exhibit, which is an addition to our supplier contracts. That opens a dialog so that we can enable and drive change throughout the supply chain.
And thirdly, we also work in the area of policy, using our business influence and voice as a platform to drive changes in policy. Some of the policy actions that we’ve taken are articulating our climate policy principles, articulating our ocean climate policy principles, as well as our nature policy principles—and then using those as a tool to open dialogue with our policymakers and influence policy, and advocate for strong climate policy.
Because ultimately, there’s only so much we can accomplish within our own four walls, within the realm of things over which we have direct control in our operations. What we really need to do is influence the systems around us and have brave conversations with customers and suppliers and policymakers in order to drive systems change.
SAM HARP, WHOI: For those of you who don’t know us, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is the world’s largest independent organization that is specifically dedicated to ocean science, engineering, and education. We’ve got about 1,100 employees and hundreds of scientists and engineers on staff. We operate a fleet of research vessels including two large ships, dozens and dozens of robotic and remotely operated submersibles, including Alvin, which is a human-occupied submersible—an iconic vehicle that has been operating since the early 1960s.
Increasingly, in recent years, we’ve really turned our attention to the ocean-climate nexus. The ocean is, after all—as Whitney knows, she’s a graduate of our Joint Program, our joint Ph.D. program with MIT—the ocean is the engine of the climate system. If you care about climate, you need to care about the ocean. If you care about the ocean, you need to care about climate.
There’s extraordinary opportunity at the intersection of these two areas. And the truth is, if we have any hope of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, if we have any hope of achieving net-negative emissions, we need to look to the ocean.
LACAPRA: Sam, help set the stage for us. We’re here at the Ocean Pavilion—and again, it’s the first time the ocean has found a place at center stage at a UN climate conference. Why is it so important for the ocean to have a voice here?
HARP: The ocean is the engine of the climate system. But it’s really been largely overlooked in the climate policy community for many years, despite the extraordinary efforts of many, many people to bring the ocean into the center of the dialogue.
We have the sense this year at COP27 that that’s starting to change, in part with this Ocean Pavilion. We have high hopes that the statements that come out of COP27 will in fact include language about the ocean, and that will be a pretty monumental accomplishment for the ocean community.
So, we’re really gratified to be here and to have the opportunity to represent the ocean community as a whole. The ocean isn’t a country, so we really need to come together across borders to speak up and give voice to the ocean. And frankly, it is sometimes disheartening to see the slow pace at which policy can move. We’re here to try to increase the sense of urgency, and also to communicate our sense of excitement over the opportunities that we see for real climate impact and real science-driven, evidence-based climate action.
LACAPRA: Kathryn, I mentioned the Ocean & Climate Innovation Accelerator in my introduction. Your company, Analog Devices, came together with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to establish the OCIA. What is it, and what motivated Analog Devices to partner with WHOI to create it?
HAUTANEN: The OCIA is a consortium of industry and academia intended to accelerate the development of high-risk, high-impact climate solutions. From our conversations with the WHOI researchers, it became clear that Analog Device’s innovative products and technical expertise could support them in acquiring the necessary data needed to advance understanding of ocean-based climate change mechanisms. But the researchers have many needs—this is where a consortium is key. Bringing together the brightest minds from all corners of industry—not solely technology, but also those who are skilled at writing science-informed policy, is the magic of the OCIA.
The OCIA’s mission is to create a solutions engine that leverages the most advanced engineering and the leading science to rapidly develop solutions to a wide range of urgent climate challenges. We are actively recruiting other industry members to join the consortium to work together to accelerate the pace of innovation necessary for finding ocean-based climate solutions.
LACAPRA: Whitney, from an industry perspective, why partner with academia in the context of climate change?
JOHNSTON: There’s a very practical need for the science in order for us to drive change from a business standpoint. We can’t set science-based targets without the science that can underpin them. The science brings the credibility, and the accountability. We need that science in order to understand where we’re starting today, and then measure how much progress we’re making against the baseline, with respect to both the climate crisis and as well as biodiversity loss.
One of the things that we do at Salesforce is we invest in mangrove projects. And we do that through our philanthropy, and also through purchasing high-quality carbon credits to compensate for our residual emissions during our emissions-reduction pathway. Eighty-percent of mangrove projects have failed in the past. And the reason is that the intervention wasn’t appropriate with respect to the root cause of ecosystem degradation. You need the science to understand the root cause: Why aren’t mangroves growing here?
Wetlands International and the Global Mangrove Alliance have been putting forward this science, and distilling it and translating it for investors and for project developers and disseminating it around the globe. Salesforce funded some of the work, and we’re excited to support them in disseminating the research and enabling others to apply those scientifically- based practices as they restore mangroves.
HARP: I love that, it sounds really exciting. I think that one of the things that science brings to the table in engaging with industry is the ability to point to what matters, and to point to what works. You used the word “credibility,” and I think that’s very appropriate. Ultimately, what science can bring is a sense of trust. You can trust that we will tell the truth, you can trust that we’ll be impartial, and you can trust that we’ll do the work that needs to be done.
LACAPRA: So that’s what an organization such as Woods Hole Oceanographic brings to the table, but what do we get out of it? Why should science want to partner with industry?
HARP: That’s a good question. Part of the challenge of course is that academic, government-funded science tends to move slowly. We need to be able to move with greater flexibility, with greater speed, with greater urgency, with a greater tolerance for high-risk, high reward investments—and those are the things that industry brings to the table like no one else. So, I actually think industry has a critical role.
LACAPRA: Whitney, many companies now talk about sustainability. But you hold a special position at SalesForce—Director of Ocean Sustainability. Why did Salesforce establish that role, and why focus on the ocean in particular?
JOHNSTON: Sam touched on the role of the ocean in climate solutions. And I feel like I can put it quite simply from a salesforce perspective: A climate action plan is not complete without an ocean action plan. I would like for us to be thinking more holistically, as we’re developing our climate action plans, to ensure that the ocean is properly integrated into those, and that we are surfacing the ocean-climate solutions that are available to us.
That might be sustainably deployed offshore wind, of decarbonized shipping, or nature-based solutions such as the mangrove ecosystems that I was talking about before, which can offer both climate mitigation services as well as adaptation services and resilience. And we need to restore the health of the ocean overall, because the big blue sea is also providing incredible climate services in terms of the carbon that is sequestered in the deep sea, as well as the heat that the ocean has been absorbing.
LACAPRA: Kathryn, you emphasized the importance of the OCIA being a coalition. Can you delve a little more into that and say why that’s important? Is it just about bringing in additional funding, or is there more to it than that?
HAUTANEN: So clearly, financial support is key to research. But what differentiates OCIA is that the consortium members also bring their latest products, their innovations, and their expertise to support that research. It’s the combination of the funding plus that expertise that is special.
For example, Analog Devices engineers are working closely with WHOI researchers to improve the battery life of underwater vehicles with the goal of enabling missions that last longer and can collect more data. We’re consulting on optimizing the electronics of a WHOI-designed sensor to help them commercialize it faster. And the OCIA is funding research to develop new technologies that can harness energy from the ocean and thereby vastly extend the time-at-sea of autonomous sensor fleets such as Argo.
So it’s a combination of—yes, the funding, but also our expertise. Our deep knowledge in engineering and technology can really help advance the science more quickly.
LACAPRA: Sam, that sounds like a much deeper level of collaboration than just having a company fund an individual research project. Can you talk more about what differentiates the OCIA’s model of science-industry collaboration?
HARP: There are a few key characteristics of the model. The first really important element is what Kathryn was talking about, and that is making it about more than just the money, so that your partners are actually able to contribute expertise, technology, transfer knowledge, and so forth.
The typical mode of engaging between industry and academic science is a kind of sponsored research mode, which is extremely transactional. It’s about funding one project at a time, maybe a fixed set of deliverables, and when it’s done it’s done, you move on to the next thing.
In our case—and I think this is one of the great innovations within the model—we’ve really lifted this to a higher level, so that the engagement takes place at a strategic, conceptual level, and we actually collaborate together. You have the academics collaborating with the businesses to define a set of high-level strategic goals, and it’s only after those goals have been set in dialogue that we actually go out and define which specific projects will receive funding in order to advance those strategic goals.
And then the third element of what makes this an unusual model is that it’s really about engaging not just at the C-suite level, not just at the sustainability office level, but engaging much more deeply within the organization. Creating, for example, virtual collision spaces so that employees of each organization can interact with the employees of the other organizations directly. It’s grass roots, sharing ideas, sharing knowledge, sharing technology, creating solutions, and fostering whole-enterprise engagement, which makes it much more exciting and much more meaningful, I think, on both sides of the equation.
LACAPRA: Whitney, Sam mentioned that you got a doctorate in ocean science from the MIT-WHOI Joint Program. But now you work for a huge enterprise software company, Salesforce. From your perspective, what role can companies such as Salesforce play in ocean science? And more specifically, how would you describe the Salesforce model of addressing climate change?
JOHNSTON: The Salesforce model of addressing climate change is centered around leveraging the full power of Salesforce. We have a core sustainability team—I serve as the ocean subject matter expert—but I accomplish the work by collaborating with business units across the organization. I collaborate with the ventures team to help them form the impact venture strategy, I collaborate with the philanthropy team, I collaborate with the carbon-purchasing team to inform those decisions.
And then there’s also opportunity to collaborate with the product team. For example, we recently have been rolling out our net-zero cloud product that helps customers understand their carbon emissions and then make decisions to reduce those carbon emissions. The product helps you calculate you Scopes 1, 2, and 3. And then just last month or so, we released a net-zero marketplace that will help customers identify high-quality projects and surface those projects around the globe that are being developed by—we call them ecopreneurs—entrepreneurs who are working on environmental problems. We wanted to create a platform that can surface those ecopreneurs to buyers and investors and give them the visibility and the reach that they need.
So that’s what it looks like to leverage the full power of your organization: to reflect on what are your superpowers, what are your values, and then also what needs doing, and then try and solve some of those problems at the intersection of those three pieces.
LACAPRA: Kathryn, a similar question for you. You have a lot of experience in high tech across multiple industries, including the energy industry. What role do you envision for technology and for industry more broadly in solving climate challenges?
HAUTANEN: We mentioned already that technology is a really great enabler for science and that industry moves very quickly. Technology is evolving—every day there are new innovations in sensing, data analysis, communication, power, materials, and more. We’re up to date on the latest and greatest innovations, and all of these can support scientists as they work to develop understanding and solutions.
So there is a momentum that industry brings to academic research. However, the other side is that industry really needs to understand more about the role of the ocean in climate change, and use that science to inform the development of products and solutions to help fight climate change.
LACAPRA: Kathryn, another question for you and for Whitney. There are many people who would view industry as the “bad guys,” and any action by industry on climate change as greenwashing. How have your employees and other stakeholders responded to your respective companies’ initiatives? And as a follow up, have you created any opportunities for your employees to get involved in taking action to combat climate change?
JOHNSTON: Excellent question. We recently announced sustainability as one of our core values, but it’s not about a value being on a website or being in the words that you share. It’s about that value being integrated into the actions that you take and the decisions that you make. That’s where it really matters.
At Salesforce, when we designate something as a core value, it shapes the work that ever single individual does, and we actually each craft our workplan for the year around the values that are set for the company. It’s been really exciting, because the employees at Salesforce are very passionate about sustainability, and they’re really looking for opportunities to get plugged in and use their skills.
Climate change is not a problem that will be resolved only by the scientists. It’s not going to work like that. We have to bring that science, break down the walls, and enable and empower people with capabilities in every single discipline to really use those capabilities for solving climate change. We need all those diverse skills, and so that’s what we’re trying to do by asking employees to integrate sustainability as a core value.
LACAPRA: Kathryn, same question for ADI: What’s been the reaction of your employees to your climate initiative?
HAUTANEN: We have small groups of engineers working directly with WHOI, as I mentioned, on individual projects. But we really want to make sure that all employees have opportunities to get involved. And we’re a huge company.
So, we hold regular webinars in which WHOI scientists present on their OCIA-funded research. We get hundreds of employees attending these sessions and there is a very lively discussion as part of them. They love hearing about climate change from the world’s experts—because it’s all new to them, it’s new to most of us. And as our employees are learning more, they want to get more involved in climate-focused programs. And it’s not just about the engineers. Everybody at the company has a place that they can contribute. So we are looking into several options to get employees more involved in various climate and ocean health programs.
JOHNSTON: That was really great, Kathryn, to hear about that, and it reminded me of another practical example that I wanted to share. We recently this last week announced a Nature Accelerator that we’re trying out. It’s a pilot, we’re just testing it out. We’re going to work with non-profits that are using data to solve the climate crisis and nature crisis issues. They’ll get some philanthropic dollars, some software, and then pro bono support. And so that’s where Salesforce employees come in—we’ll have a pro bono fellowship, to which employees can apply, to help these non-profits build and create data-driven climate solutions using the Salesforce software. So that’s just another example to show how a company can use their superpowers.
LACAPRA: Sam, if I had to come up with a word to characterize Woods Hole Oceanographic, it might be “independence.” Our scientists are very independent, and they are proud of that. So how does WHOI, as an independent research organization, partner with industry—including in setting research agendas—and not compromise that independence, or create the perception of greenwashing?
HARP: Yes, it’s an important question. I think perception is always challenging, because sometimes you have other actors who are actively trying to shape the perception, and they have their own agendas.
But we manage our independence in pretty practical ways. One is, it is written into every single grant agreement, so it’s there in black and white. We have a really clear set of policies for engaging with industry partners. Again, they’re written down, they have to be written down, they have to be published on your website, and you have to enforce those policies. And those policies have to include the things that can and cannot be said.
In fact, it’s absolutely critical for a non-profit like ours with a brand that was built over 92 years to be incredibly vigilant when it comes to reputational risk. There’s really almost nothing more important to a non-profit. It’s important for industry to understand that that doesn’t mean the non-profit is being ungrateful, it means that we’re defending our most valuable asset because we have to.
And that includes reviewing and approving every single instance of the use of our organization’s name, and never allowing for the appearance, or the implied endorsement, of a company or a product, regardless of what our relationships are.
But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing is that we have to be incredibly picky about who we chose to partner with. We have a whole system for vetting companies that we work with, and if you make it through that system, then we can be assured that you’re not a greenwasher. Really the best way to avoid the perception of greenwashing is to make sure that greenwashing does not in fact happen, and you’re only working with people who are really serious about addressing climate issues and other issues.
LACAPRA: Kathryn, as someone coming from industry, and a company, ADI, that has taken action on climate, what would you say to companies that are still on the fence—that are thinking about taking a more active stance when it comes to climate action, but maybe aren’t yet sure if that’s the right thing to do for their business or bottom line?
HAUTANEN: We’re all impacted by climate change. Some of us are already feeling its impact acutely. Others think they have more time, but that timeline is compressing rapidly. Every organization, every population is being impacted by this shift. It impacts everything.
So as a company, your supply chains are getting impacted, your markets, your facilities, your infrastructure, and your employees. There’s so much happening right now. This can be an age of great innovation, but the time to act is now. We don’t have time to sit on fences anymore.
HARP: I would jump in to underline what Kathryn said. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to think seriously about what it takes to act. This is why we’re looking for alliances with industry, and why we need to crack the code on how to do that so that academic institutions, scientists, can bring the credibility and ensure that solutions don’t do more harm than good, that they’re executed in responsible ways. But we have no time to waste. And I would maybe just add to that that it’s important to see this not as an obligation, but as an opportunity. It truly is. It’s an opportunity to make your organization stronger, and to act as one.
AUDIENCE Q&A (not transcribed)
LACAPRA: We’re just about out of time, but I’s like to close with one question for all of you, which is: Are you optimistic about the future of our ocean planet and the future of our climate?
HAUTANEN: I think humans can step up when they’re faced with great challenges. And I think there’s a realization that we have got to do something, and we need to do it now. Humans are endlessly inventive and innovative, and I think this is going to be a really great time of innovation and transformation as we look to what are we going to do next.
I come from the technology side, and I know how fast people can move when there’s a crisis facing them. So, I have no doubt that we will come together to develop solutions and make the changes needed to avoid catastrophic impacts on the planet.
JOHNSTON: I’m optimistic because I think we have no other choice but to be optimistic. We need to lean into this with urgency. We need to make changes in the climate movement in terms of more inclusion. We’re understanding more so today than I think ever before—and we need to continue advancing this further—that solutions are going to be coming from communities on the ground, and they’re going to come from pockets all around the globe. I think as long as we continue to push to make the most inclusive movement possible and help people understand and appreciate the impacts of climate change on everyone’s lives, then we’ll be able to innovate as Kathryn said.
And we have no choice but to innovate, and we have no choice but to remain optimistic, and carry on with urgency and heart and determination like we’ve never seen before.
HARP: Absolutely I’m optimistic. Optimism, I would say, is a characteristic of ocean science and engineering. It is really woven into our DNA. I’m much more optimistic since I’ve come to work in this space over the last four years. And like I said, there is no better source for scalable climate solutions than the ocean, so let’s look towards it. We have looked to the horizon throughout human history, we have always looked to the ocean during challenging times, so let’s look to the ocean now, and we will succeed.