Microsoft Vows To Reduce Its Carbon Footprint Beginning In Fiscal Year 2013

May 9, 2012

Environmental groups have long been pushing the technology industry to adopt big goals for renewable energy resources, and apparently somebody was listening.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it is vowing to distance itself from coal-power and become more environmentally friendly, reducing its carbon footprint. Beginning on 1 July 2012, the software giant´s data centers, software development labs and office buildings will all be carbon neutral.

The plan is to zero-out the overall amount of climate-changing gas the company uses. Microsoft said it will even charge individual departments fees for any carbon produced during work-related travel.

“The goal is to make our business divisions responsible for the cost of offsetting their own carbon emissions,” Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner said in a blog post. “It´s the right thing to do.”

While Microsoft is not the first company to go carbon-neutral, Turner hopes his company´s move would encourage other large tech firms to follow suit. “Working on the issues of energy use and environmental change provides another opportunity to make a difference in the world,” he added.

Turner said the “carbon price and charge-back model” was designed to “provide an economic incentive for business groups across Microsoft to reduce carbon emissions through efficiency measures and increased use of renewable energy.”

He said the company also plans to adopt energy efficient solutions at its Redmond, Washington campus. Microsoft hopes to achieve energy savings of nearly $1.5 million in fiscal year 2013, according to Turner.

Microsoft´s pledge comes less than a month after activists rappelled down a Seattle office building to get online retailer Amazon.com to adopt clean energy to power its “cloud” data centers.

The Greenpeace members launched themselves from the roof of Amazon.com´s new office building, which sits across the street from Microsoft´s headquarters. They placed a cloud-shaped banner with a message asking the companies “How clean is your cloud?”

Greenpeace recently launched a report grading major technology firms on the use of renewable energy sources in their growing datacenter demands. That report marked the start of the Clean Our Cloud campaign.

The environmental group graded both Amazon and Twitter poorly, but gave Facebook, Google and Yahoo! high marks.

Microsoft´s datacenters currently rely heavily on coal and nuclear power, which is a threat to the environment, according to the Greenpeace report.

But this week´s announcement by the software titan to become ℠carbon neutral´ is a “good first step,” said Greenpeace senior analyst Gary Cook.

“However, the devil is in the details, and the details will show whether Microsoft becomes a transformational leader in moving us toward a clean cloud, or continues to rely on coal,” he told AFP.

“As written, the carbon neutral plan allows Microsoft to keep building datacenters that rely on coal, such as its new investments in Virginia and Wyoming, yet claim to be carbon neutral by buying renewable energy credits. That tactic looks good on paper, but won´t power Microsoft´s cloud with one more electron of clean electricity,” Cook noted.

Greenpeace is urging Microsoft to follow Facebook´s lead and choose renewable energy when building new datacenters. “It would catalyze a shift from dirty to clean electricity and create the scale of positive change that Microsoft could be proud of,” Cook added.

Microsoft has been documenting its sustainable energy efforts on its Software Enabled Earth blog since 2009. In March of that year, CEO Steve Ballmer made a commitment that by 2012, Microsoft would reduce its carbon footprint by at least 30 percent of its 2007 baseline.

Robert Bernard, revealed on Earth Day 2012 that the company had met its goal.

He said the company has numerous strategies at offices around the world that have contributed to the reductions in carbon emissions. At the company´s Puget Sound offices, employees have eliminated “approximately 9.9 million miles of auto travel” each year by taking free busses to and from work.

He also noted that Microsoft has opted to use CarbonSystems, a cloud-based Enterprise Sustainability Platform, to manage energy and environmental performance across “more than 600 facilities in more than 100 countries.”

Microsoft said their goal is to improve key metrics such as power, carbon, and water usage effectiveness. One strategy Microsoft has employed at new and existing data centers is to run servers at higher temperatures, “within the range specified by the manufacturer but higher than is typical — so that we can use free air cooling instead of extensive air conditioning,” a statement by the company said.

Perhaps the biggest change being implemented at Microsoft is the internal carbon fee, which will place a price on carbon usage. The company said in its blog that the price will be based on the market pricing for renewable energy and carbon offsets, and will be applied to their operations in over 100 countries.

“The goal is to make our business divisions responsible for the cost of offsetting their own carbon emissions,” Microsoft said in its blog. “The carbon price and charge-back model is designed to provide an economic incentive for business groups across Microsoft to reduce carbon emissions through efficiency measures and increased use of renewable energy.”

Earlier this month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized Microsoft as the third largest purchaser of green power in the US, purchasing more than 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually. This is the annual equivalent to taking more than 150,000 passenger cars off the road.

“We believe climate change is a serious challenge requiring a comprehensive and global response from all sectors of society. This carbon charge-back model is one way we seek to both reduce our impact and test new approaches which we hope are broadly useful for other organizations,” said Microsoft.

A summary of Microsoft’s carbon neutral strategy can be found in the whitepaper “Becoming Carbon Neutral: How Microsoft is Becoming Lean, Green, and Accountable”. (PDF download)

Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

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