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Microsoft brings the outdoors inside this Earth Month

If you walk into a Microsoft Store during the month of April, you may feel as if you are communing with nature.

For the first time, Microsoft is celebrating Earth Month in its stores by demonstrating how artificial intelligence can help sustain the planet, while also showcasing Microsoft’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

AI for Earth is a multi-year, multimillion-dollar initiative launched in 2017 to deploy the full scale of Microsoft’s products, policies and partnerships across four key areas:

  • Agrilculture
  • Water
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate

The goal is to transform the way society monitors, models, and manages Earth’s natural resources. This April, every Microsoft Store in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Australia includes a demonstration of the Seek by iNaturalist app.

The app encourages outdoor exploration and learning by using image recognition technology powered by the Microsoft Azure platform to help identify plants and animals from people’s photos. Users are encouraged to explore nature in their neighborhood by earning badges for finding different species and completing challenges.

A ladybug image displayed on a monitor captured on a smartphone
The Seek by iNaturalist app uses image recognition technology powered by the Microsoft Azure platform to help identify plants and animals from people’s photos.

The Seek app does not collect personally identifiable information. An account is not needed and all achievements and badges are stored on your device. However, it is relying on a computer vision model trained solely on photos submitted and identified by the iNaturalist community. The iNaturalist users who choose to share their photos are creating quality data for other nature lovers seeking to better understand and protect nature.

“Part of the power of AI is the more people use it, the better it gets,” said Sandra Andrews, head of marketing and experience for Microsoft Store. “By taking a picture of a plant or wildlife, you are doing your part to make the system smarter while becoming a citizen scientist.”

Andrews envisions the Microsoft Store retail experience as a great opportunity to teach and engage customers. “We want our customers to feel a sense of surprise and delight,” Andrews says. “Most retail environments feel transactional, but at Microsoft Store we want our customer experience to be more interactive. It’s about helping you achieve more and about bringing that technology to life. We want to make you aware of how technology can positively impact your life.”

For Andrews, Earth Month is a perfect opportunity to give customers more than just a typical retail experience.

Sandra Andrews uses the Seek by iNaturalist app
Sandra Andrews, head of marketing and experiences at Microsoft Store, uses the Seek by iNaturalist app to identify plants in her community.

“We work to make Microsoft come to life in our retail stores, which I think about as learning centers, making them destinations to help people achieve more,” she says. “We are a physical manifestation of the Microsoft mission statement: to help every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.”

The Earth Month experience at Microsoft retail outlets also helps demonstrate the company’s commitment to the environment. For example:

  • Microsoft helps protect 15 million acres of forests.
  • Microsoft operates 100% carbon neutral.
  • Microsoft’s packaging is 72% recycled materials.
  • Surface and Xbox are 95% recyclable.

Other in-store Earth Month initiatives:

  • Microsoft partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) this year and will donate $50 per transaction in April to the nonprofit’s Plant a Billion Trees initiative, which aims to plant 1 billion trees by 2025. With each transaction, Microsoft will help TNC plant 25 trees up to a total of $25,000.
  • Microsoft Store, which provides a recycling program year-round for when you buy a new device, has amped up the program for Earth Month. For every recycled laptop, tablet, phone or gaming console, Microsoft will also donate to TNC’s tree-planting program.

Top image: Margie Strite, left, Microsoft Store community development specialist, takes a customer through the Seek by iNaturalist in-store experience.