On April 22nd, people around the world will celebrate Earth Day. Now in its 47th year, Earth Day presents a great opportunity to celebrate our planet, while recommitting ourselves to making positive changes.
Earth Day is also a time to reflect on where we have been and what the road ahead looks like. As I think about Microsoft’s journey over the past decade, and my own as the company’s Chief Environmental Strategist, I am optimistic.
For many readers, that may seem surprising given the scope, scale, magnitude and frequency of so many global resource challenges. Far too many people around the planet do not have access to reliable energy. By 2030, the world will need 40 percent more freshwater than is currently available. Scientists estimate that species extinction is happening at 1,000 times previous rates and potentially 100 times more rapidly than a rate that will sustain human populations. For years, those of us working on sustainability issues have seen these facts and know they can tell a troubling story—one that seems to culminate in the serious degradation of many of the planet’s critical systems and resources, such as water, climate stability, food supplies and biodiversity.
That has sometimes been my own view of the future. But, more and more, as I think about the wave of innovation currently transforming so many industries to be more efficient, more productive and lower-impact, I can’t help but to see cause for hope. Innovation, by definition, is not constrained by the patterns and technologies of the past. By working together, and continuing to develop and deploy revolutionary technological solutions, we can change the story of our planet’s future for the better.
In fact, we’re already seeing promising signs for the path ahead. Through cloud computing, widely distributed sensor networks and artificial intelligence, we can collect and process more data than ever before. This is allowing companies, policymakers, scientists, farmers, manufacturers, researchers, consumers – in short, everyone – to better understand their impact on the planet and take action to mitigate that impact. A recent report found that our optimism is not unfounded – technology available today has the potential to reduce CO2 and resource use while generating additional revenues, cost savings, as well as wider societal benefits. And this report, which is very promising, in my view significantly underestimates the potential of innovation, and that is why I am optimistic.
Digital transformation is all around us – creating rapid innovation and deployment of renewable and off-grid energy technologies that bring clean, affordable power to more people than ever before; advancements in agricultural management that are increasing crop yields and helping to feed our growing global population; and new tools that are enabling us to better manage, preserve and protect our precious clean water resources.
At Microsoft, our sustainability mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to thrive in a resource-constrained world. We believe that, when deployed with the principles of sustainability in mind, technology is not in competition with nature. Instead, it can help us become better stewards of it. Across areas of energy, carbon, water, ecosystems, and circular economy, we are focused not only in minimizing the impact of our own operations, but also on empowering every person and organization on the planet to leverage the technological breakthroughs of cloud computing and artificial intelligence to transform their use of natural resources.
In the week leading up to this Earth Day, and in the coming months, we will share some stories that are at the core of our optimism for the future – examples of human ingenuity and sustainable innovation from our employees, our customers and our nonprofit partners around the world. Tomorrow, we will introduce you to just a few of our many sustainability champions, who are putting their passion for technology and sustainability to work on everything from farming and beekeeping to reducing energy consumption and waste. On Wednesday, we’ll feature innovations from our enterprise customers, and our Chief Environmental Scientist Dr. Lucas Joppa will speak on a panel in Washington, D.C. about how artificial intelligence is transforming our understanding of and interaction with Earth’s ecosystems. On Thursday, we will showcase work with The Nature Conservancy, one of our longtime nonprofit partners. And on Friday, we will share more about the transformations underway in cities in the U.S. and across the globe.
These examples are just a sample of the many projects happening around the world that are moving us toward a more sustainable future. By working together, we can increase the pace of their expansion and make meaningful progress in finding solutions to protect our natural resources, ensuring that our planet and its people all thrive. I hope you will join us.