Back in January, the Microsoft sustainability team announced that it was pledging to become carbon negative by 2030. This vast undertaking is one of many of Microsoft’s commitments to becoming a more sustainable and green technology brand.
Climate change is one of the most significant environmental issues we face. Scientific consensus agrees that the world confronts an urgent carbon problem. Human activity has released over 2 trillion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the planet’s atmosphere since the First Industrial Revolution. The majority of these gas emissions come from carbon dioxide. This is more carbon than what nature can re-absorb, and every year we continue to pump more and more of these toxic gases into the air. Once excess carbon reaches the atmosphere, it will take thousands of years to remove.
The carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere has created a blanket of gas, which is trapping heat and changing the planet’s climate. As a result, Earth’s temperature has already risen by 1-degree celsius. We know that if this temperature change continues to increase, the consequences will be catastrophic for the planet.
Curbing these carbon emissions is the best way forward to protecting our environment. Microsoft is one of the few big tech giants that recognises this and has actively made steps to combat climate change. So what sustainability strategies are they implementing, and are they effective?
Microsoft pledge to go carbon neutral by 2030
Microsoft pledged to be carbon negative in January this year. Becoming carbon-negative means that Microsoft will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than what they emit. They plan to spend 1 billion dollars on a climate investment fund, which is aimed at bolstering carbon-removal tech.
This technology is relatively new and requires further funding and broader use by other big companies. By 2050, Microsoft pledges to remove all carbon that has been emitted by Microsoft since it was founded in 1975.
Microsoft Sustainability Principles
To become carbon negative by 2030, Microsoft has said that they are taking a principled approach based on seven elements
- Grounding in science and math: They will continually ground their work in the best available science and most accurate math.
- Responsibility for their carbon footprint: By 2030, Microsoft will reduce its carbon emissions by more than half and remove more carbon than they emit every year.
- Investing in new carbon reduction and removal technology: Microsoft will spend $1 billion on the development of carbon reduction and removal schemes that will help the world become carbon negative.
- Empowering customers: Microsoft will develop and release technology to help their suppliers and customers reduce their carbon footprints as well.
- Ensuring adequate transparency: The tech giant will publish an annual sustainability report that provides transparency on their progress.
- Using their voice on carbon-related public policy issues: Microsoft has pledged to support new public policy initiatives that will accelerate carbon reduction and removal opportunities.
- Enlist Microsoft employees: Microsoft will create new opportunities for their staff to enable them to contribute to the company’s sustainability efforts.
Microsoft Sustainability Projects
Expanding their carbon fee scheme
Microsoft’s carbon program has been central to its commitment to sustainability since 2012. The company has applied a global internal carbon fee model that charges Microsoft business units for carbon emissions from their operations. The fee is designed to provide an incentive to increase efficiency, investments in carbon-reducing innovations, and the development of sustainable projects and technologies. All of these will help to minimise Microsoft’s environmental impact.
Through Microsoft’s internal carbon tax, the company states that it will fund carbon reductions, clean energy, and offset projects. They plan to start expanding their current internal carbon tax to cover their Scope 3 emissions in July 2020. These Scope 3 emissions include all other indirect emissions that occur from Microsoft’s value chain.
Microsoft then plans to invest the funds generated from these carbon fees in four different categories:
- Renewable energy: Helping to expand the renewable energy market worldwide.
- Carbon offset community projects: Supporting sustainable development globally.
- Climate Grants: Promoting climate-related energy and technology innovation, both for their internal operations and to contribute to global climate action.
- Track-and-report projects: Helping to ensure the company’s transparency and accountability.
A new climate innovation fund
Microsoft has committed to investing 1 billion dollars to help with the development of carbon reduction and removal technologies. The company will primarily invest in climate solutions that have been developed and need capital to scale in the market.
Microsoft aims to make investments that will accelerate existing climate solutions and create new technologies by investing directly in companies and funds that will scale new innovative solutions in the market. They will focus on areas such as direct carbon removal, digital optimisation, advanced energy systems, industrial materials, circular economy, water technologies, sustainable agriculture, and business strategies for nature-based markets.
Although this is a small percentage of the investment that is needed, Microsoft hopes that more governments and companies will contribute and invest in these new technologies as well.
Can Microsoft sustainability halt climate change?
Although these new sustainability strategies are a positive shift in the right direction, especially from a company as big as Microsoft, can they make a difference?
Microsoft’s 2030 carbon-neutral announcement in January was a statement of intent more than a concrete plan. Right now, none of their strategies will have much effect on climate change. Until investment in the carbon-reducing technologies and solutions pays off, Microsoft cannot remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit.
Microsoft received praise from climate scientists for their ambition. But, it’s also worth remembering that the tech company also counts oil and gas corporations, such as Chevron Corp.and Exxon Mobil Corp, among its customers. These companies are some of the worst emitters of carbon and greenhouse gases. A 2019 Greenpeace report also shamed Microsoft for their ‘connections’ to some of the world’s oil companies, whose principal aim was getting more oil and gas out of the ground and onto the market faster and cheaper.
However, Microsoft’s chief environmental officer, Lucas Joppa, argues that oil and gas companies need to be a part of the climate and energy solution and that it doesn’t make sense to cut ties. He also defends Microsoft’s carbon-neutral plans.
“We have got to go out and make some bets on technologies that don’t exist, on technologies that are too expensive, and on markets that aren’t mature enough. They will never be cheap enough, they will never be scaled high enough, and they will never be mature enough unless a Microsoft comes in right now and starts pushing.”Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft
For more information on Microsoft’s commitment to carbon neutrality and other sustainable schemes, you can visit their website here.
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