Earth Day 2013 – Reflecting On Our Commitment to Sustainability

For the past several years, I’ve used Earth Day as an opportunity to look at Microsoft’s progress on environmental sustainability issues over the past 12 months and where we are headed in the year to come.

5367.Carbon NeutralThe most significant progress to report is around Microsoft’s work to achieve carbon neutrality in our current fiscal year. I’m excited we made the commitment last year and are on track to meet it, but I am even more excited about how we’re meeting it. We are one of the very first companies to put an internal price on carbon emissions, which provides our business and operational groups more awareness and incentives to conserve energy and seek renewable power. The fee enables us to invest in renewable energy credits and certified offset projects to meet our carbon neutrality goal. I attended the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen a few years ago where the nations of the world tried and failed to achieve a global system for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, I’m struck that Microsoft is one of very few organizations in the world today imposing a carbon fee across operations in 100+ countries in a way that makes economic and environmental sense.

6355.clip_image002_thumb_23B39C41Since the implementation of the carbon fee, we have invested over $4 million in renewable energy and carbon offset projects around the world, including wind, hydro and biomass. Projects we’re investing in like the Oddar Meanchey forest protection project in Cambodia works with local communities to halt deforestation and protect an area of 56,000 hectares of tropical forest. In 2012, the EPA awarded Microsoft a Green Power Partner of the Year Award and most recently recognized us as the second largest organizational purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. (more than 1.9 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, which is enough green power to meet 80 percent of the organization’s electricity use). We’ve also kicked off a series of “energy efficiency grants” that will fund teams across Microsoft to implement efficiency programs that will reduce the company’s footprint.

88acresBeyond pioneering an internal carbon fee, we’re driving innovation in a number of ways to enable efficiency in our own operations and for the Information Technology industry as a whole. Microsoft is piloting the first off-the-grid data center that will run on biogas from an adjacent wastewater treatment plant. A smart buildings project on our Redmond campus, which debuted in October 2011, has been expanded to 125 buildings across our Redmond campus and is expected to yield energy savings of up to 10 percent. We have an opportunity to move the needle on corporate sustainability practices at many levels due to our size. Our Redmond Campus feeds 30,000+ people each day in its cafes and kitchens and has made important progress on waste reduction – diverting 99 percent of waste-stream in the cafés to recycling or compost.

We’re building new energy-saving features into our core products including our cloud services. As one example, new auto scaling capabilities on Windows Azure (the Windows Azure Auto Scaling Block and the recently acquired MetricsHub product) enable developers to easily scale and throttle their applications’ use of resources, saving money and reducing the environmental footprint along the way. Related to this, we’re working with The Green Grid to create guidance on the important role of developers have on improving IT resource efficiency. We are also working with government agencies, environmental groups, and large employers in countries like the United Kingdom on “Work from Anywhere” days to promote travel reduction from telework solutions like Skype, Office 365 and Lync.

I’m also energized and inspired by the work on key environmental issues done by my colleagues in Microsoft Research. Over the past year some of our top computer scientists collaborated with the United Nations Environment Programme to build a computer model that will model all the terrestrial and marine ecosystems on earth. Research like this has the potential to dramatically enhance our understanding of the environment, which can support future efforts to improve conservation policies around the globe. It’s an example of how technology can help bring about a more sustainable future—and often in unexpected ways.

At Microsoft we strive to empower everyone at the company to take into account how technology can address challenges of sustainability. Some other stories that teams across Microsoft are sharing this Earth Day include:

  • Today, MSR released a video featuring LiveANDES, a new tool to enable researchers and citizen scientists to map the distribution of endangered wildlife. Chile contains an important cross-section of the world’s flora and fauna and is home to many endangered species. LiveANDES will help scientists around the world keep the International Union of Nature Conservation red list for endangered species accurate, complete, and up-to-date.
  • Microsoft Student is promoting a theme week for Earth Day and will be sharing a mix of their own and others’ content on their Facebook and Twitter pages, including a blog post today on the Microsoft Student blog on five past environmentally-themed Imagine Cup finalist games.
  • Microsoft Data Centers published a blog post late last week on the 10 Earth-Friendly Facts about Microsoft’s Cloud Infrastructure. Microsoft recognizes the effects of its growing infrastructure footprint, and as a result, strives to continue to build a cloud infrastructure which allows customers to do more with less servers, energy, and environmental impact. Microsoft Data Centers website has more information on how Microsoft is making its data centers more efficient.

We’ve come a long way since I first stepped into the role of chief environmental strategist five years ago and Microsoft created its first environmental sustainability team. While we still have progress to make in reducing our environmental footprint and realizing the potential of technology to address environmental challenges, I’m pleased to say that we are well on our way to making environmental sustainability a core value at Microsoft. We’re more confident than ever about the role of IT to address climate change and other important environmental challenges. Indeed, the recent SMARTer 2020 report found use of IT-enabled solutions can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5 percent, generating $1.9 trillion in energy and fuel savings while creating 29.5 million jobs by 2020.

We invite you to join us in our journey here on the Microsoft Green Blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Look for us to share what we’re learning about the intersection of technology and the environment as we continue down the path toward greater sustainability.

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