We’re increasing our carbon fee as we double down on sustainability

Phot of forest trees being inventoried
Image of trees with data and insights provided by Microsoft AI.

Since 2009, Microsoft has made and met a series of commitments to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. While we’ve made progress toward our goal of cutting our operational carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030, the magnitude and speed of the world’s environmental changes have made it increasingly clear that we must do more. And we are taking new steps to do just that.

Today, we are announcing that we will nearly double our internal carbon fee to $15 per metric ton on all carbon emissions. This internal Microsoft “tax” was established in 2012 to hold our business divisions financially responsible for reducing their carbon emissions. The funds from this higher fee will both maintain Microsoft’s carbon neutrality and help us take a tech-first approach that will put sustainability at the core of every part of our business and technology to work for sustainable outcomes. In practice, this means we’ll continue to keep our house in order and improve it, while increasingly addressing sustainability challenges around the globe by engaging our strongest assets as a company – our employees and our technologies.

Today, I’d like to share new steps we’re taking in four areas:

Building sustainable campuses and data centers

We will continue to build, renovate and operate our campuses in a manner that reduces our impact on the environment. At our headquarters in Redmond, Washington, we have started work to construct 17 new buildings totaling 2.5 million square feet. We will remove fossil fuels from these new buildings and run this new addition, as well as the rest of our campus, on 100 percent carbon-free electricity. We are also reducing the amount of carbon associated with the construction materials of our new buildings by at least 15 percent, with a goal of reaching 30 percent, through a new online tool. Combined with our smart building technology, Microsoft will be the first large corporate campus to reach zero-carbon and zero-waste goals.

In our data centers, we will continue to focus on R&D for efficiency and renewable energy. In 2016, we announced that we would power our data centers with more renewable energy, setting a 50 percent target by the end of 2018 and topping 60 percent early in the next decade while continuing to improve from there. We hit the first target nearly a year ahead of schedule, and today we are sharing the news that we will reach the 60 percent milestone before the end of this year. We’re therefore setting our next milestone on the path to 100 percent renewable energy, aiming to surpass the 70 percent target by 2023. We’ll also launch a new data-driven circular cloud initiative using the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor performance and streamline our reuse, resale and recycling of data center assets, including servers.

We will also add water to our long-standing carbon and energy commitments, launching a new water replenishment strategy where we will replace what our operations consume in water-stressed regions by 2030.

Accelerating research through data science

Data is a critical part of our work and a global transition to a low-carbon future. Data can help tell us about the health of our planet, including the conditions of our air, water, land and the well-being of our wildlife. But we need technology’s help to capture this vast amount of data and convert it into actionable intelligence. Despite living in the Information Age, when it comes to environmental data we are still too often flying without real insights.

We founded our AI for Earth program in 2017 with this challenge in mind. Since then, we’ve launched two new APIs that help provide the scale and flexibility to transform how people working on sustainability issues process data and generate valuable insights. More than 230 grantees are now using Azure and AI to create new models and discover new insights. But we have learned there’s still more we can do to accelerate this work.

Today, we’re committing to hosting the world’s leading environmental data sets on Azure. These large government datasets contain satellite and aerial imagery, among other things, and require petabytes of storage. By making them available in our cloud, we will advance and accelerate the work of grantees and researchers around the world. We will also continue work to bring new APIs and applications to the AI for Earth gallery and mature projects into platform-level services as we’ve done with land cover mapping.

Helping our customers build sustainable solutions

As the world’s needs heighten, we are working more closely than ever with our customers to use digital technology and AI to address sustainability challenges. We are making this an increasing focus across every part of our company, and in the coming months we’ll share more details about our plans to develop and deploy products to facilitate our customers’ and partners’ growth with sustainability in mind.

Already we’re helping empower our customers and partners with new technology to help them drive efficiencies, transform their businesses, and create their own solutions to create a more sustainable planet. At Microsoft we call this infusion of technology tech intensity, and we’re seeing it propel sustainable growth around the globe. Let me share a few examples.

Companies like Ecolab and Ørsted are improving water conservation and efficiency of renewable energy with Microsoft Azure, IoT and AI. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has deployed a digital solution called Hermes with autonomous drones to inspect turbines and is now building on this with Azure AI to improve operations further to help make renewable energy more affordable and the future more sustainable. Bühler, one of the world’s leading grain processing providers, keeps food healthy and safe for 2 billion people every day. Their goal is to reduce 30 percent of waste and 30 percent of energy that goes into food production processing for customers by 2020. SilviaTerra, a small start-up, is focused on using AI to improve our understanding of forests and better manage these economic and environmental assets. Through its work with AI for Earth, they’ve completed a national inventory of forests, down to the tree level.

These companies’ technology breakthroughs offer a blueprint for sustainable economic growth. New research we commissioned with Pricewaterhouse Coopers UK (PwC UK) shows that greater adoption of AI across even a few sectors has the potential to boost global GDP by up to 4.4 percent, while also reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 4 percent. This is approximately 2.4 gigatons of CO2, equivalent to zeroing out the 2030 annual emissions of Australia, Canada and Japan combined.

Advocating for environmental policy change

Finally, public policy has an important role in creating enabling environments to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions. That is why we’re joining today the Climate Leadership Council (CLC). CLC is an international policy institute founded with business leaders – many of whom are our customers – as well as economists and environmental leaders to promote a national carbon pricing approach. In addition to our internal carbon tax, we supported the recent Washington state ballot measure on pricing carbon and believe it’s time for a robust national discussion on carbon pricing to lower emissions in an economically sound way.

Addressing these global environmental challenges is a big task. Meeting this raised ambition will take the work of everyone across Microsoft, as well as partnerships with our customers, policymakers and organizations around the world. This road map is far from complete, but it’s a first step in our renewed commitment to sustainability. Time is too short, resources too thin and the impact too large to wait for all the answers to act. There’s an incredible opportunity to be realized by acting, supported by data and technology, on climate change. We are starting our journey to embrace that challenge and enhance opportunities for everyone on the planet today.

Tags: , ,