Davos WEF

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says it's 'more than fair' for him to get some credit for Trump's support of Trillion Trees campaign

Key Points
  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said it is "more than fair" for him to get some credit for President Donald Trump's statement of support for the Trillion Trees campaign.
  • Trump came out in support of the campaign, despite his skepticism of climate change.
  • Benioff is a trustee of the World Economic Forum.
Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce.com speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2020.
Adam Galasia | CNBC

DAVOS, Switzerland – Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said it is "fair" for him to get some credit for President Donald Trump's surprising support for an initiative geared toward battling climate change.

The Trillion Trees campaign to plant, restore, or conserve 1 trillion trees by 2050 was launched earlier this week here at the World Economic Forum as an official initiative of the event's host. A day ahead of its launch, Trump formally backed the initiative, despite his longstanding skepticism of climate change.

There had been speculation at Davos that Trump's support came at the urging Benioff, a trustee of the forum. The president has before shown his willingness to lend his ears to corporate leaders. Benioff, meantime, has used his position as CEO of a company with a $143 billion market cap as a platform to advocate for corporations' role in improving society. That includes showing support for an initiative led by Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and a senior advisor, to train a million workers.

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When asked whether "it's fair" to give him some credit for Trump's support of the campaign, Benioff said "it's fair," before adding: "It's more than fair."

Benioff also stressed that he wasn't seeking full credit for the initiative, or the support it has gained. He also cited former Vice President Al Gore and renowned conservationist Jane Goodall as key figures in the project.

Benioff would not say whether he spoke directly to the president about it. When asked multiple times whether he talked to Trump about the initiative, he said he had spoken "to everybody."

The project, said Benioff, was inspired in part by a July article in Scientific American, which was based on research co-authored by Tom Crowther, a professor of global ecosystem ecology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The study found that 1 trillion trees could reduce two-thirds of global air pollution.

Benioff said he discussed the idea with Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. Dalio "did an analysis and said, 'This is an amazing project, but it's going to cost $300 billion – about 30 cents a tree." Benioff added: "He said you have to get the government involved, and so we started calling every government – and yes, we also are involved with the U.S. government."

"But then the WEF has also a relationship with every government," he added.

The Chinese and European governments are supporting the initiative, as well as more than 300 companies, Benioff said.