Microsoft’s Green Initiatives: An Earth Day 2023 Reflection

Earth Day was born in 1970, making April 22, 2023, the 53rd annual global celebration of the modern environmental movement. While the earth is not a corporate entity, it does get considerable support and backing in the form of corporate social responsibility programs, corporate coalitions, and more. This week, we will share some information about the founding of Earth Day and how our partners at Microsoft are supporting the environment every day around the globe. 

The Origins of Microsoft’s Sustainable Mission

Set against 1970’s backdrop of gas-guzzling muscle cars, increasing smog, massive oil-spills, and the new passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson was inspired by student activism around anti-war protests. He wanted to channel that energy into clean air and water causes, so Nelson recruited conservation-minded Congressman Pete McCloskey as co-chair and a young activist and organizer named Denis Hayes to help lead his efforts. Then, he announced an organized teach-in across college campuses to the national media. Earth Day was off to the races! 

Nearly a half-century later, some massive environmental movements were born in a similar fashion. In 2014, a coalition of corporations announced a bold commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2020, forming the RE 100. In 2019, Jeff Bezos co-founded the Climate Pledge, committing Amazon to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. Since Amazon made the commitment, more than 50 global companies have signed on to the pledge, including Unilever, Microsoft, IBM, JetBlue Airways, Uber, and more. 

The Climate Pledge consists of three major commitments:

  • Measure and report greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis
  • Implement decarbonization strategies in line with the Paris Agreement through real business changes and innovations, including efficiency improvements, renewable energy, materials reductions, and other carbon emission elimination strategies
  • Neutralize any remaining emissions with additional, quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially-beneficial offsets to achieve net-zero annual carbon emissions by 2040 

Microsoft’s Pledge to Exceed Carbon-Neutral

While Microsoft was among the first corporations to join Amazon on the pledge, Microsoft has actually pledged to exceed carbon-neutral. Going above and beyond the call of duty, they have committed to reaching carbon-negative by 2030. This commitment would allow Microsoft to achieve their goal 10 years sooner than the Climate Pledge’s goal for carbon neutrality. 

When announcing this ambitious plan, Microsoft President Brad Smith stated, “While the world will need to reach net-zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so.”

Achieving carbon-negative by 2030 is only the first stage of Microsoft’s ecological recovery work. In addition to carbon-negative output, Microsoft pledges that by 2050, they will remove the entire historical carbon footprint of the company since it was founded in 1975. Microsoft has published an incredibly detailed roadmap outlining the steps to reach these goals as well as the financial investments and technological advancements needed to accomplish carbon-negativity. 

Boosting Accessibility with the Climate Innovation Fund

To accomplish their goals, Microsoft is now operating a handful of major initiatives such as the Climate Innovation Fund and AI for Earth. The Climate Innovation Fund offers funding and investment in climate solutions that have been developed but need capital to scale in the market. 

According to the Climate Innovation Fund’s official website, the focus on what projects to fund are primarily based on four criteria: 

  1. Climate impact – Meaningful, measurable climate solutions in the areas of carbon, water, waste, and ecosystems.
  1. Underfunded markets – Investing where the capital need for climate solutions is not being met.
  1. Shared alignment – Technologies that are relevant to Microsoft’s core business and that of Microsoft customers.
  1. Climate equity – Ensuring that developing economies and underserved communities benefit from climate solutions.

The specific areas of interest identified by Microsoft include direct carbon removal, digital optimization, advanced energy systems, industrial materials, circular economy, water technologies, sustainable agriculture, and business strategies for nature-based markets. 

The climate crisis we face has a universal impact on life around the planet, so the efforts to solve the climate crisis should be universally accessible. Unlike many venture capital investments or academic research grants that often require deep connections to apply, the Climate Innovation Fund has a simple one page form

Empowering Others with Microsoft AI for Earth

Microsoft AI for Earth is another investment arm that puts Microsoft Cloud and AI tools in the hands of those working to solve global environmental challenges. AI for Earth offers financial grants as well as the technical resources of Microsoft’s world-class data scientists and engineers. The technical resource pool includes open-source tools, models, infrastructure, data, and APIs for grantees and conservation innovators,  accelerating their work and broadening their impact.

The AI for Earth grant program offers support in four main areas of focus: climate, agriculture, biodiversity, and water. To date, Microsoft has awarded 508 grants to projects, impacting efforts in 81 countries. The company is committed to growing their community with rolling application deadlines throughout the year and encourages applicants from all backgrounds and financial situations. 

One such grant recipient is Ketty Adoch, an individual researcher from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Adoch serves as a Geographical Information Systems Specialist with a background in computer science and physics. Her research utilizes machine learning to analyze aerial imagery of the Ugandan landscape.

Over 40% of Uganda’s oil reserves lie underneath the treasured Murchison Falls National Park and nearby Lake Albert. Since 2008, commercial drilling investments have threatened the endangered species that call the region home, as well as the fishing and agriculture that supports the livelihood of many communities within the region. Without formal data on the changes to the environment over the last several decades, however, little can be done to keep the extensive drilling in check.

Adoch is using the AI for Earth grant to create historical and current maps of the landscape as well as algorithms to predict the impact of development in the coming years. A project of this scale requires powerful computing resources such as data storage and processing bandwidth, capabilities that are typically prohibitively expensive for a single researcher to license. 

Using the data, maps, and algorithms from Adoch’s grant research, other researchers, scientists, conservationists, and technologists can monitor land cover change in the area. With this information, they can paint a picture of the impact of oil activities to support conservation efforts going forward.

Innovations for Sustainable Businesses

Scientists have categorized emissions into 3 categories, called “Scopes.” Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions that your activities create, such as emissions from trucks that your company operates around the country. Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions that come from the production of the energy you use, such as the emissions caused by the diesel fuel production that keeps your trucks fueled. 

Scope 3 emissions are the indirect emissions that come from all the other activities in which you’re engaged. For a business, these emission sources can be extensive and must be accounted for across the entire supply chain and include building materials and employee travel. Scope 3 emissions can also include the full life cycle of the business’s products, including the electricity customers consume when using the product. Given this broad range, a company’s scope 3 emissions are often far larger than its scope 1 and 2 emissions combined.

In the trucking example, scope 3 emissions would include emissions generated by a visit to a truck stop where a driver may order a hot meal and take a shower. It would also cover the emissions cost of using the truck’s AC adapter to power a cell phone and any phone calls that the truck driver makes on interstate routes. 

In order to make emissions estimates more accessible, Microsoft created a public tool called the Sustainability Calculator. The Microsoft Sustainability Calculator analyzes the estimated emissions from Azure services through a Power BI dashboard, helping customers understand the carbon impact of their cloud workloads, discover the ecological benefits of fully migrating to Azure, and track their otherwise elusive Scope 3 emissions. 

Not all cloud servers are created equal, but Microsoft’s huge commitment to reducing their carbon footprint allows them to offer one of the “cleanest clouds” available, no pun intended! In fact, a major Microsoft study revealed significant energy efficiency improvements—from 22% to 93%—when switching from traditional enterprise data centers to the Microsoft Cloud.

Follow in Microsoft’s Vanishing Footsteps

With the heightened risk of cyberattacks on physical servers, the rise in companies favoring remote workforces, and a heightening ecological crisis, there has never been a better time to migrate your business to the Microsoft Cloud. 

Learn more about how your company can reduce its carbon footprint this Earth Day by contacting Windows Management Experts!

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