Bringing Credibility, Consistency and Value to ESG Reporting with Jon Powell of Salesforce

February 1, 2024

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Jon Powell, the Global Head of the Sustainability Practice at Salesforce, is an entrepreneur, technologist, academic, and chemical/environmental engineer by training. At Salesforce, Jon works directly with hundreds of the world’s largest forward-thinking corporations to accelerate their ESG and Sustainability strategies and actions through direct, catalytic advisory engagements. Additionally, Jon is leading multiple internal and external initiatives to unlock responsible and trusted uses of AI to advance sustainable outcomes.

John Shegerian: Have you been enjoying our Impact Podcast and our great guests, then please give us a thumbs up and leave a five-star review on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you consume your favorite podcasts. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed loops platform spans the arc of capital, from venture capital to private equity bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find closed loop partners, please go to

John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited to have my good friend back with us today, Jon Powell. He’s the global head of sustainability practice at Salesforce. Welcome back to the Impact Podcast, Jon.

Jon Powell: Great to be back, John. Good to see you again. We got a lot to dig into, so we’ll have to be selective here. Can’t wait.

John: Yeah. Well, we’re going to continue, like we were talking a little bit off air that we’re going to continue the story, the journey of sustainability and ESG and Salesforce. Before we get going there, just give for briefly for our listeners and viewers who didn’t see your episode back in April. Give a little bit of the Jon Powell backstory.

Jon: Yeah, sure thing. Born in West Virginia, moved many times growing up. Got to see a lot of the Midwest growing up, but figured out early on something environmental. We talk to young people a lot. It starts with a notion. Something in my gut told me something in the environment is where I need to be. Environmental engineer in school at University of Florida, did a lot of work in the waste management space coming out of school led an R&D focused firm for several years.

Took a break in the career, pivoted a bit, got really big into data and applications for lifting up environmental outcomes using data and new algorithms and systems and whatnot. Fast forward a few years and we’re here at Salesforce bridging all of those things. I have the distinct pleasure at Salesforce, I get to work with hundreds of the world’s biggest companies often with their sustainability function, but often with procurement and IT, and some other divisions helping them to accelerate.

A part of how we see the world at Salesforce is that we make investment in our people to help drive and help our customers not only with our products, but ancillary or adjacent to the product. Every day is different, and I’m digging into REITs one day. I’m digging into some circular product the next day, and decarbonizing buildings the next. It’s a new thing every minute and it’s fantastic, but testament to the journey, as you said, that everybody’s on right now trying to become more sustainable.

John: Jon, talk a little bit about the duality of the role. One, you have this amazing platform,, when all these biggest brands, iconic brands around the world that you get to advise and work with on their sustainability, ESG practices. Also, talk a little bit about the other side of the coin, which is inside the Salesforce, actually your own sustainability ESG journey inside. How do you juggle and how do you balance your daily workflow in terms of inside, outside?

Jon: Yeah. Actually, I’ll flip that a little bit and I’ll tell you how kind of philosophically, I think the way we’re doing sustainability at Salesforce came about, and certainly there’s dozens of people who have come before me that really built us into this great really leading program. I think in essence starting with our founder Marc Benioff and many other leaders, the decision was the climate crisis is very real, and what is it that we are going to do about it?

I think the posture was we should have our house in order and be a beacon for others to follow and also make investment to really share what it is we’re learning and what we know. That’s such a really big part of how we’ve been operating at Salesforce for many years. I think the way to think about it though, we have our own corporate sustainability and ESG function that is carrying out the program for Salesforce. The fund that I get to have is to be a little bit of this bridge where I sit within that broader team but my role is exclusively customer facing.

I am again, there to build trust with the customer in part by conferring our experience and expertise as Salesforce, but then also bringing to bear my own, just through the journey that I’ve had in a lot of other industries that are very different from tech. Certainly there’s a lot of really sticky, intractable problems that are out there across the world and across industry. That two-pronged approach is how we’re helping to support our customers do their decarbonization programs, sustainability program.

John: Fair enough. Last time we touched on this very, very hot trend, both in investment trend social trend, a business trend of AI. Talk a little bit about the latest and greatest updates with regards to AI and sustainability.

Jon: Yeah, whew. That’s a big one, but I think here’s the way that I talk about it today. My goodness, I’m almost embarrassed to see some of the things that we talked about six months ago, because things have advanced so rapidly. There’s going to be a lot [crosstalk]

John: That’s why we wanted to have you back on, because I know this is [crosstalk] a journey. It’s ever changing and quickly.

Jon: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a quote that I’m going to shamelessly steal that I read recently from an AI thought leader. That is you get up this morning, flip up in the laptop, and the AI that you use today will be the worst that you ever use at any point going into the future. The developments are happening so quickly. I kind of bucket it though, John, because it’s like, okay, everyone’s talking about it. Maybe people have played around with some of the AI tools that are out there.

Everyone’s got a different elevation, maybe different attention level, they should think about. I got to attend a great event last week where actually our CEO Marc Benioff was honored with an award here in Chicago. He answered the question in this way as it relates to how should executive leaders be thinking about it? That was simply be paying attention. I think if we’re being straight up about it when it comes to like massive, massive, like business adoption deriving value from it, we’re still learning what the capabilities are.

So, it’s a little bit early, but we do encourage people to be thinking about and paying attention to resources that are on this side of the hype machine, if you will. Now, for somebody like me who’s more in a practitioner role, I’ve been very deep into it more and more ever since our conversation six months ago. I think, getting back to your question, here’s the way that I frame it up, quite unfortunately, but what can we do about it today? Sustainability teams at the corporate level, even for large companies, are understaffed.

We do not have enough humans that are there to carry out the duties that they need to take care of. With an ever-growing, and I’m sure we’ll get into some of this too, with an ever-growing list of regulatory frameworks, regulations that are coming down the pike, everybody is having to step up. I’m seeing this again, across the globe, even for the most sophisticated and revered companies that have wonderful winning sustainability programs, there’s still a big step change. Now the question is how do we address that step change, whether we’re just starting, whether we’re farther down the maturity curve. I do believe that there are responsible and effective ways of rolling out even tools that are leveraging generative AI specifically today, that can really help to solve for that headcount problem that maybe another year or two years till we get five people on our team.

Right now, we’re just two. We see and hear that all the time. So, what I’m laser focused on is how do we demystify everything that’s out in the market, separate the wheat from the chaff, and really be thoughtful and direct about, okay, here are some areas within their program, be it analytics, whatever. Again, we can give some examples that AI can legitimately help to accelerate where it is you’re going in a trusted and valued way aligned with how enterprises need to intake and manage information.

John: Give an example of AI-driven predictive analytics that can help benefit a company in their sustainability backslash ESG journey.

Jon: Sure, sure. Here’s a good example that I like to highlight. Oftentimes, companies that are a little earlier in their journey there’s often a charge of, well, okay, what’s competitor X, Y, and Z doing?

John: Yeah.

Jon: Okay. How do I go about that as a sustainability junior or expert, doesn’t matter? I’m going to go what’s publicly available, what’s in their public disclosures, in their sustainability reports? Anyone’s who’s looked at those before, that’s 100 pages a piece, 150 pages. Even a very good reader with excellent comprehension that knows what to look for, that might be a multiple day or multiple week thing till you get enough information where you can synthesize what are the competitors, and then therefore, where should we be going? What standards should we align to, et cetera, et cetera.

To me, it’s a classic use case for some of the emergent generative AI models that can actually intake fairly large bodies of text. There’re models out there that you can feed at the Great Gatsby, and you can have a whole conversation about any and everything in the Great Gatsby, right? Imagine taking a few of those key sustainability reports for your top five competitors, you feed it into your AI.

Now, critically, you need to have an expert way of working alongside that AI. It won’t do it for you. We can talk about the shape of that if you’d like, but I think you start talking about going from maybe two weeks for that initial cut evaluation to maybe you can do it in a matter of a few hours and you’re farther down the road and able to be more strategic. That’s kind of the lens that I like to be thinking about, at least today’s generative AI tools and how they can help a small team to accelerate.

John: The term efficiency resource is good. It’s a resource to help make us all more efficient, and therefore, in our organizations more efficient that we apply it too.

Jon: Totally, absolutely.

John: Let’s switch back to the issue of ESG, which we talked about in our last episode, but even since April, ESG has evolved and changed. Now, we know the great Larry Fink came out with his whole ESG edict with regards to his portfolio companies, but even in recent times, he’s backed off wanting to use that terminology anymore. Where do you see ESG in terms of its use, in terms of its consistency, credibility, and value to organizations that want to decarbonize, that want to make the world a better place, that have the right intentions?

Jon: Sure. There’re levels to that. I’m definitely into camp. Certainly not a fan of ESG being weaponized either by an organization that really doesn’t intend to do good and using it as a peanut butter layer on top of what is actually going on. Unfortunately, it has become, in the political football realm as well in terms of what does ESG confer? I think where I land on it, and I think most people who know how to interrogate what a company is actually doing is like, what are the actions and intent underneath whatever it is we’re calling our ESG program, or in the case of a financier, like a BlackRock, like an ESG fund right.

On some level, that is an individual corporate decision is how do I feel about the hotness or the toxicity of this term? Is that what I’m going to rally my program around? We still see it being used fairly commonly. Again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, provided that we have intelligence and rigor and positive intentions underneath the hood of whatever that ESG program is.

John: Right. What does ESG now meaning in terms of you get to see a cross section of wonderful and big and important brands that are iconic, that make the world a better place. They have the right intentions. How do you then layer in ESG with regards to the businesses that you would advise?

Jon: Sure. I’d say really, a mega trend that we see across industry right now, John, is there is a hunger to get very specific. Because ultimately as we think of just the basics and the fundamentals of like one part of the ESG program, which is wrapping arms around our carbon emissions. Now, again, we don’t want to have carbon and tunnel vision and only think about that, but as we look at what are the regulations asking us to do, what might be disclosed maybe as part of SEC’s pending regulation, that’s a big gap. The organizations that are wrapping their arms around that carbon footprint and saying, okay, what am I doing today?

They need to have as much specificity as possible in terms of okay, if I’m using this much energy in this location, what exactly does that mean from a carbon perspective? Because if that underpinning from a data perspective is not valid, is not sound, then it’s hard for them to act. Where we see it really manifesting the most is so-called Scope three, or within the supply chain. I won’t get deep into the science of how that exactly works out, but for the listeners that may not be intimately familiar, essentially you can do a first cut estimate of what my supply chain emissions are, meaning that which is outside of my own control, my domain.

You can start by saying, where did I spend money and what is the carbon intensity of those different categories where I’ve spent money? It’s very coarse, and it obviously doesn’t differentiate between a good player and a bad player. What I mean by customers want to get as granular as possible. They want to get as specific to their own situation and processes as they can so that they know, okay, what is really influencing my carbon output, carbon emissions, and where are my decarbonization levers? That’s when we started getting into where do the investments need to happen?

Where the process changes, material science innovations need to happen. With my previous work at Closed Loop Partners, they were very much solving for a major piece of that, which is that, okay, now that I know that I need to maybe switch from material A to material B, because I’ve got an 80% reduction in carbon footprint, well, okay, where am I going to find that alternative material? Is the infrastructure in place to take care of it? Again, once again, doesn’t stop within the walls of that company, that organization, but holding onto that better and granular data can really actually inform what we need to do, rather than having some broad, non-specific estimate.

John: If you’ve just joined us, we’ve got Jon Powell with us. He’s back on Impact today. He’s the global head of sustainability practice at Salesforce. To find Jon and his colleagues on all the wonderful work and important work they do in sustainability, please go to We like to give actionable items to our listeners and viewers, Jon to help them either make good decisions or avoid bad ones. Talk a little bit about some of the biggest mistakes you get to see out there with regards to applications in ESG that businesses make, and what should our listeners and viewers or organizations looking to get on this journey try to avoid doing, to avoid these type of mistakes that you’ve seen out there?

Jon: It’s an excellent question. I’ll distill it in a way that it’ll sound simplistic, but there’s a human element, and it’s not always so simple. I think that where real and true sustainable change will come from a corporate perspective, is when there are multiple leaders for other divisions within an organization that are all kept in the loop and engaged on that sustainability journey. I think I just replied to a student who had asked me like, hey, how do I think about breaking into sustainability?

Who hires on the sustainability team? In my reply, I said, well, listen, as we think about the modern corporate functioning and winning sustainability programs, we have engagement with the division of legal and IT, and procurement and real estate and on and on. That’s how we’ve got great stakeholders all across Salesforce that are doing their jobs within procurement within IT, et cetera. But some of that decision process that influences how they do things has an effect on sustainability, so baking that into the internal processes that already work. It’s an obvious point, and again, it sounds simple, but it takes time to build up to that.

I think highlighting well, you just mentioned that one link, but I think one of the things that we do really, really well at Salesforce is that we have these expert individuals that are spending their days, thousands and thousands of hours collectively figuring out problems. Like, how do I procure renewables when I don’t own a building? Or how do I legitimately work with my supply chain to help them, even though they don’t have a sustainability team? We have built, and you can get many of these through that portal, a lot of these very pragmatic tools that just say like, how did we do this? Or, what are the best practices that we learned from some of our trial and error?

I do always like to point to that, but to me, I think that it goes back again, what we hear so often, and you would expect this with the SEC potential regulation, with this new European regulation that’s going to cover 50,000 companies. What’s immediately in front is a sustainability professional who’s like, I got to get this compliance report out, which is a legitimate problem, but we need to always remember and anchor our activities and what is it that we’re trying to accomplish. Which is we’re trying to be more sustainable and decarbonize, and we have to come out of the sustainability silo in the organization in order to affect that change meaningfully across the org.

John: Also, what I’m hearing from you is don’t silo sustainability, don’t silo an expert and the work that they’re doing. Specifically, communicate it among all to help better inform that expert, but also the others that are working in other sectors to help make the whole organization sustainable and get on a better sustainability path than just a siloed one and one expert working straight down and almost a little bit in isolation

Jon: Sure. I’ll highlight a great example. A colleague of mine at Salesforce has done some great work in looking at, going back to AI, let’s look at all the different generative AI models and what’s going on under the hood from a carbon perspective. You can absolutely see, okay, the IT leaders right now are sort of figuring out how are we going to start rolling in AI tools and technology into our overall tech stack, either for broader distribution or maybe just within certain divisions.

You absolutely, if you’re a well-run machine and you’re not siloed, the information that that sustainability expert is doing to say, hey, these three models, excellent carbon intensity, and even as we model out in our most wild of dreams of deployment and use within the organization, how might that influence our carbon footprint? That’s really important information spoken in terms that should resonate with the IT leader and it naturally leads to a decision process where that’s not the only criteria but that’s one of the things as we’re evaluating different vendors and service providers.

That’s a classical example of how those two things can be bridged. Sustainability would never be the number one priority of that IT leader. They’ve got a hundred things, but if we can incorporate that sustainability consideration materially in the purchase process, that’s where we see a lot of magic happen.

John: Talk a little bit about lessons learned in terms of Salesforce’s own journey, not in your client facing practice where you spend most of your time. But Salesforce itself, the DNA the genetic makeup, which of course starts with Marc, who’s big into sustainability and really is a true believer and leader there. How does that become then, a reality inside of Salesforce that you’re then able to use in the application? What lessons have you learned with regards to the genetic DNA of Salesforce that’s applicable to your client base as well?

Jon: Sure. I think there’s a, a couple of things. One, you implied John, and you’re a CEO, you know this, if it’s a passion project or if it’s at the core of what the leader of the organization believes, that has a way, as you know, of trickling down to the rest. It’s got to be, and I think in the case of sustainability, it’s easy to have a window dressing approach versus like, no, this is really important. For us you know, we have our company core values, which for the 80,000-person organization we have is like really, really important.

Those north stars are like, you have to hang your hat on that, and if that’s not backed by legitimate action, it’ll be hard to get uptake. I think that was very forward thinking and making that sustainability one of the five core values that Salesforce has. I think too, and maybe I’ll just give one example of, I think the manifestation, but I think early in Salesforce’s journey, well, before I joined the organization it was clear that if we’re going to be a beacon and an evangelist for what we believe to be our more sustainable ways of doing business and confer that to our customers, we needed to have our own house in order.

Even with CEO blessing, as it’s been told to me, some of the historians at the organization have conveyed that we did need to show that for the investment we wanted to make, to really bolster our program, we needed to show you know, the ROI. Really in some small way, some of that early thinking about, well, okay, so we’ve tried to do our best for our carbon footprint as an example. What we tended to find was that it was a six-month process and there were errors that were pointed out by auditors and whatnot. That ended up being the genesis of what now sits as one of the products in the Salesforce suite, which is called Net Zero Cloud.

It’s an ESG software that does a lot of things very powerfully, but that really grew out of our own need. As our team was saying, hey, we need to make investments in our own program to do better, one of those things was we need to up the sophistication the way that we’re pulling in data, connecting it to systems. That was an app that we built that then became another product called Sustainability Cloud. Now it’s evolved and it’s generally available and is one of the leading products we have at the firm. Again, I think because we made that investment in sustainability, we’re also now in a position very interestingly, to support our customers who might be where we were five, six years ago.

John: Let’s talk a little bit about that. I was at a Green Biz conference 18 months ago or so, or even a little less where you were rolling those out. Those [inaudible] were then new products and services.

Jon: Sure.

John: Where are you on the journey and talk a little bit about some of those products and services, but so many organizations, small and large. I know you get to service startups that are only doing 3 million in revenue, and you get to service existing iconic enterprises that are doing 10 billion in revenue. Talk a little bit about that Net Zero and sustainability enterprise software systems, and what does that really mean in terms of helping your client base get on the journey and then as they get on the journey, get better at the journey?

Jon: Totally. There’s, I think, maybe four legs to that stool. I think first, we have like the actual product itself, this Net Zero Cloud. It was architected by design to be what we call a horizontal product, which means if we look at Salesforce, what do we have? Global customers all over the place, all industries, all sizes. By building what we call horizontal product, essentially, we’re solving for the most common needs for everybody, but then we’re leveraging what really is the secret sauce of the Salesforce platform, which is that it is infinitely extensible.

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It has the world’s largest app store where people have built on the Salesforce platform to do cool little functionalities, and it’s infinitely configurable in a way that I have my own idiosyncratic emission factor data that I need to bring in. Well, okay, I can just make a quick change and boom, there it is within the platform so it’s not rigid that maybe another solution might be. There’s product. Salesforce is very well known for our partner ecosystem. There are armies of consultants and experts that are out there that know the Salesforce platform really well, and they can do amazing things with it.

Because our product is an enterprise grade and enterprises are complex, you have these experts come in that know IT systems, and they’re like, okay, net zero goes here and here, let’s connect everything and now we’ve got automations and all these other wonderful things. We have an extensive amount of documentation and learning because people are onboarding and offboarding at companies all the time. While we might have our main operator of the software we run our ESG program on, they might leave or move on to a new role, and so, we need a way of enabling on that platform. Again, that’s being a global company that’s super, super powerful and important and really gives it the longevity for the companies that need it obviously for the long term. Really the final piece is the human and advisory type of element, which we have our own internal team at Salesforce.

There’s someone like me, I’m a free resource, so I’m the best kind for some customers, but we get deployed in certain ways to really help customers in really, really interesting ways, mostly for super advanced customers that have a really thorny bleeding edge problem. Those are the four buckets that we’ve oriented around the market, and it’s a super-fast-growing product. Our product team is amazing. The way that Salesforce works with all of our products, they say we update three times a year. We’ve got this new regulation in Europe called CSRD that everybody’s freaking out about. Our next product release, which is like today, or it’s like this week, has this whole workflow where you can align all of your data to what the CSRD is requiring so that you can report the data to the EU and call it a day.

John: Two things. One, are you happy with the level of adoption that these great platforms have received since you launched them?

Jon: I think so. We would like folks to move quicker. I think the median company that I engage with, I think they are not just starting, which is great. They don’t have a lot of legacy and a lot of baggage, but I think you know, I don’t know if it’s like communication modality, but there’s some fundamental aspects that I wish there was just a playbook. You want to start a sustainability team in your company.

I think you can make that five pages long and just really get everybody aligned to what’s needed. Again, we still do see a lot of instances where a company, at some point was like, oh, for marketing purposes, we need to have somebody in the sustainability role and they need to evangelize about sustainability, but we don’t have an annual report saying what it is we’re doing. Again, I think, that’s what I see and I would like to see folks moving much more quickly. We’ve very happy with the uptake that we’ve seen in the market and there’s other tools being developed that folks are using and that doesn’t prevent somebody from doing well.

But we just have a particular posture and vision of the market, which is, okay, yeah, we’re addressing compliance, but you need to really weave this into your whole enterprise IT system. Oh, by the way, once you do that, there’s a lot of unlock in terms of driving actual business value. Once you get your ESG data and house in order, it really unlocks a lot of other things and gives you some license to really start talking and incorporating in a meaningful way all the great decarbonized products that you’re offering as an example. Again, that’s how we see things and things are moving quickly, but we always want to see things moving faster.

John: You know, Jon, because of the cross section and breadth of the clients that you get to service, like you said, around the world, is the process when you deploy your software systems and sustainability, whether it’s Net Zero or sustainability for the sustainability software, there’s there a duality to it where the information that they put in is fed back into your system on an opaque basis so no one could see name brands and stuff, and then the machine and AI is self-learning. So, you’re able to even better advise your clients on a go forward basis based on the information you’re bringing in from around the world on that cross section of the industries that you get to service?

Jon: That’s a really good question. I’ll do my best to talk about the way that Salesforce products work. An organization comes to us, they’ll set up what’s called an org, and so that’s where their Salesforce data and product will live. They can have multiple orgs, they can do everything through one. That’s in the weeds, but the point is Salesforce doesn’t have any visibility on anybody’s data. I think I’m going to butcher this, but your data is not our product, is what Salesforce has.

Again, the posture is like if I’m running my Salesforce instance and I’ve got one or multiple products, those are my data, and it’s up to me how I unearth those within my Salesforce ecosystem. To your point on AI, and I think that’s a big and interesting differentiated piece of how Salesforce is going to market on our other AI related products, and that is you’ve got all of this rich customer data sitting within your Salesforce org and you bring whatever large language model that you want, we don’t care.

You bring it in, you incorporate it, and then of course, there’s a lot about how to best deploy that and actually use it. That’s kind of the posture of the Salesforce AI products, which is that you already have all this rich customer data, which is extremely valuable harvesting and summarizing, extracting that in a way that sales teams can use in this way, marketing teams use in that way, leaders using this other way is, is really a big piece of the value prop, which I think is compelling.

As we look at applying that to a sustainability and ESG team as we have our rich data. I’ve given a couple presentations on this recently, but the way I talk about how do I get started with AI with my organization, step one still is, you have to get your data ducks in a row because you can get whatever the best predictive model in the world, but if it’s predicting on 40% good data, it’s a waste of time. Get that house in order pay attention to sustainability and pay attention to AI and its capabilities and at some point, they’ll start converging. I’ve started to engage with some of our customers on AI in that way and it’s pretty wild.

John: You know, Jon, I always love talking with you because I always learn because you’re a sustainability OG, so you have a huge view backwards. Now, go back now forwards. I’m going to have you back on six months from now because it’s always great to talk with you because you have tremendous visibility of what’s about to happen in the future and what’s really current. How do you see the next six or eight months ahead, what are you excited about at Salesforce and what you’re working with your clients on right now with regards to sustainability and ESG initiatives?

Jon: I think and, I’ll frame it as a prediction and a hope that at least two or three of the leading companies in each major industry sector are starting to do some piloting experimentation, hopefully with the Salesforce products within their sustainability teams and programs.

John: That’s great.

Jon: I’ve personally spent many of my own personal hours at nights and on the weekends just playing with some different AI tools to understand what are these limits of capability. It’s quite interesting. It’s often described John, and this, here’s a new term for it. It’s referred to as a jagged edge, which means that AI is really good at some things and it’s really bad at some other things. Obviously, that’s not constant because of the innovations that we talked about, but I think that is a necessary, I think, precondition over the next six months before companies can really start experimenting.

I think we’re still at a point right now, to be quite frank. I think it’s still quite mysterious, and I don’t even know if we’re at a point where most companies, even leading ones have an AI strategy. I find myself having that conversation much more than like, should I do this LLM or that one? It’s more about how do I do this in a way that I’m not fouling any trusted customer data? How do I do this in a way that I’m governing it properly internally so that I don’t just like release the hound, so to speak, that I’m having a controlled introduction of what can be very powerful tools, but potentially harmful and toxic in the ways that have been pretty well described elsewhere.

John: Well, we didn’t know Jon, when we spoke last in April of this year, but that 2023 would go down as the hottest year ever since they’ve been recording temperature. Should that be a reason that makes us more hopeless or because of all the progress we’re making with great people like you and great brands like Salesforce that are doing so much work to encourage and support their client base in their sustainability journeys, that we’re actually making more progress faster than the world is getting warmer. Eventually those two trends will converge and we’ll see an inversion of the rising temperatures and things are going to calm down and level off in the future. What do you make of all this?

Jon: That’s a great question. I think I go back to the J word that we were talking about before journey. I think just in the way that over time we’ve seen an accumulation of what seems to be worse and worse news in a lot of ways when we think about the harmful effects of climate change. It’s my belief that we continue to accelerate the progress that we’re doing. We adopt a mindset where we’re adjusting our thinking based on new evidence in that as we, hopefully in the near future, start to see more and more positive signals demonstrating the accomplishments we’re making right now, I think a lot of it is structural.

I think many would be surprised at the share of renewables that we have in the US if you were to go back 20 years as an example. That’s my belief. It’s the Jim Valvano line, never give up type of thing. We got to pay attention to the noise, but not let the noise bog us down and take us off course. We got to keep [crosstalk]

John: We’re ride or die. We’re ride or die, man. Really.

Jon: That’s right. That’s right.

John: A little birdie named Paul Williams, our executive producer told me that you’re just like most native Chicagoans and like me and most native New Yorkers, you’re a foodie. You dig pizza and you dig barbecue. Talk to me a little bit about your passions about barbecue and pizza.

Jon: Oh man. Well, yeah, I got to lead with pizza. To talk about ride or die. I’m a ride or die pizza guy. That’s been part of my DNA since my parents. But what I will say, and I credit my short stint in grad school up in New Haven, but I do have [crosstalk]

John: New Haven

Jon: I’ve got five different pizzas that I make at home, John. My pizza’s the best in town. Chicago’s got some lovely pizza places.

John: What kind of oven do you have? Because my daughter’s looking for pizza oven and I’m dying to know what’s your equipment look like?

Jon: Oh, okay. Well, I’ve got multiple ovens, so I’ll get that out. But my secret and what I’ve developed is a hybrid Chicago Tavern style thin and a New Haven a beet style. Curated over many hours and many experiments, but it is [crosstalk]

John: All right. If we were going out for pizza tonight in Chicago, if I wasn’t coming to your house, where would we be going? Loumal[?] [indiscernible], Giordano’s, Pizano or Picois[?] or somewhere else?

Jon: If you’re forcing me to stay in Chicago.

John: I’m forcing you, I’m forcing you.

Jon: I’ll probably take us to the smaller suburban location of Pequod because it’s quite charming and I’m into that stuff.

John: Okay. How about on the barbecue stuff?

Jon: I’d say if you’ve never had a deep dish in Chicago before, I know you have John, I’d take you to Lou’s, but if you weren’t constraining me to Chicago, we’d hop on a flight, take Avelo Air to New Haven, I’d take you to Sally’s the original location and that way you can really start at the top and then cascade down.

John: How about Manhattan? Where have you eaten pizza in New York City?

Jon: I’ve done the major ones. There’s one right near Closed Loop’s office near Columbus Circle, Angelo’s, that’s thought of very highly [crosstalk] I’m blanking on some of the Brooklyn ones, but I say I’ve been [crosstalk]

John: John’s of Bleecker. Have you ever been to John’s New York Pizza?

Jon: John’s, I’ve been to probably the most frequently. JOB, that’s very, very solid buy.

John: Okay.

Jon: That’s an excellent pick.

John: Somehow, we got to figure out how I could get an invitation to your house and try your pizza because I’m a pizza guy for sure.

Jon: Well, the invitation is open, John.

John: Oh, you’re the best. Listen, Jon, the invitation’s always open for you to come back on the Impact Podcast. I expect you to come back on and give our listeners and viewers a bird’s eye view into what’s going on in ESG and sustainability. It’s always fascinating talking with you. I’m so glad for what you do, and thank you to you and your colleagues at For our listeners and viewers to find Jon Powell and your colleagues and all the impactful work you’re doing in sustainability, please go to Jon Powell, not only am I grateful that we’re friends, and not only am I grateful that you are one of the true leaders in the world in sustainability but I am also very appreciative and grateful that you’re making the world a better place.

Jon: Doing what I can, John. I’d be remiss, I forgot to mention this the first time. You know that I’m the second quarterback that’s showed up on your podcast, Joe Heisman whispers Heisman Trophy winner, but may have played a little ball for the Washington football team. It was named differently at the time, but I had to mention it was an honor being the second quarterback invited onto your podcast.

John: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You were a professional quarterback? You were in the NFL?

Jon: No, no. I think I was in fifth grade.

John: Oh, okay.

Jon: We had the full uniforms, Washington, everything.

John: Got it. All right.

Jon: I got a kick out to [crosstalk] Joe Heisman on your podcast. Had to [crosstalk]

John: He was a legend. But it’s great to have you because you’re a legend also. I love it, Jon. Thank you. I can’t wait to have you back on again, and I can’t wait to sit down and have a slice of your pizza.

Jon: All right. Let’s do it sooner rather than later. Thanks, John.

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