Microsoft is pledging to become 100% “carbon-negative” by 2030 by removing more carbon from the environment than it emits.
CEO Satya Nadella said Thursday that the commitment will happen “not just across our direct emissions, but across our supply chain, too.”
It’s a major step up from Microsoft’s previous green pledges. The tech company had previously said its data centers would be 60% powered by renewable electricity by the end of last year, but environmental groups have said it has fallen short of such rivals as Google and Apple by relying too much on purchasing renewable energy credits to make up for its carbon emissions.
This video explains in part Microsoft’s reasoning:
“Microsoft has really been in the middle of the pack,” said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA. “Not an ‘A’ student but clearly not doing nothing.”
Jardim said that Thursday’s announcement shows a “more serious and holistic” approach and that Microsoft “understands climate science and the shrinking window for action.”
The 7 principals
Microsoft explained in a blog its key principals: “We’ve concluded that seven principles, or elements, will be vital as we continually innovate and take additional steps on an ongoing basis.”
- Grounding in science and math. We will continually ground our work in the best available science and most accurate math …
- Taking responsibility for our carbon footprint. We will take responsibility for all our emissions, so by 2030 we can cut them by more than half and remove more carbon than we emit each year.
- Investing for new carbon reduction and removal technology. We will deploy $1 billion of our own capital in a new Climate Innovation Fund to accelerate the development of carbon reduction and removal technologies that will help us and the world become carbon negative.
- Empowering customers around the world. Perhaps most importantly, we will develop and deploy digital technology to help our suppliers and customers reduce their carbon footprints.
- Ensuring effective transparency. We will publish an annual Environmental Sustainability Report that provides transparency on our progress, based on strong global reporting standards.
- Using our voice on carbon-related public policy issues. We will support new public policy initiatives to accelerate carbon reduction and removal opportunities.
- Enlisting our employees. We recognize that our employees will be our biggest asset in advancing innovation, and we will create new opportunities to enable them to contribute to our efforts.
Microsoft had previously set an interim goal of 70% renewable energy by 2023. It now says it will hit 100% renewable for all of its data centers and buildings by 2025 — and will no longer depend on credit-buying to meet its goals. Google and Apple have already said they reached the 100% milestone. Amazon said it would run on 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Microsoft’s announcement was timed ahead of next week’s gathering of elites at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos. Catastrophic trends like global warming and the extinction of animal species will be a focus of the conference.
Microsoft is responsible for about 16 million metric tons of emissions per year, said Brad Smith, the company’s president and chief legal officer. That estimate includes not just Microsoft’s global network of energy-chugging data centers, but emissions from making electronics components for its devices and from everyone who plugs in its Xbox gaming consoles at home.
“When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough,” Smith said. “We have to get ourselves to net zero.” That means removing from the atmosphere all the carbon one emits, he said.
The pledge to include supply chain emissions follows a similar move by Apple. Microsoft says it will set new procedures next year to push its suppliers to reduce their environmental footprint, in the same way it has required some of them to offer their workers paid time off and parental leave. It’s also expanding the scope of a fee it has had since 2012 charging its own business units for each ton of carbon they emit.
Microsoft says that after reaching its 2030 goal, it will, by 2050, remove from the environment all of its historical emissions since the company was founded in 1975.
But Jardim said Microsoft is undermining its climate goals by taking the lead among tech firms in partnering with oil and gas companies, providing cloud computing and artificial intelligence that can speed up the extraction of fossil fuels.
Microsoft also said Thursday it is starting a $1 billion fund for developing carbon reduction and removal technology.
Charting the story
Microsoft also published three charts as part of its announcement:
Said Microsoft: “We recognize that progress requires not just a bold goal but a detailed plan. As described below, we are launching today an aggressive program to cut our carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, both for our direct emissions and for our entire supply and value chain. We will fund this in part by expanding our internal carbon fee, in place since 2012 and increased last year, to start charging not only our direct emissions, but those from our supply and value chains.”
“The importance of this issue is underscored by the advances in scientific research during the past few years. These findings make clear both that the average temperature on the planet has risen by 1 degree Celsius during the past 50 years and that carbon dioxide emissions have been a primary driver of this and this temperature increase. Indeed, if we fail to change substantially and quickly, there is a high risk that average temperatures will increase between another one and four degrees Celsius by the end of this century. And the impact of such a temperature increase would be catastrophic.”
“For more than two centuries and especially since the 1950s, economic development has required an ever-increasing amount of carbon emissions,” Microsoft said. “This is the part of the past that we need to change. In short, we need to use more energy while reducing our emission of carbon.”