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Microsoft increases carbon fee as it doubles down on sustainability

A ‘Microsoft on the Issues’ blog authored by Brad Smith has outlined that Microsoft will double its internal carbon fee to $15, taking four concrete steps to begin making this vision a reality across operations and beyond its four walls.

Since 2009, Microsoft has made and met a series of commitments to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

While the company has made progress toward its goal of cutting its operational carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, the magnitude and speed of the world’s environmental changes have made it increasingly clear that more must be done. And Microsoft is taking new steps to do just that.

The company has announced it intends to nearly double its internal carbon fee to $15 per metric ton on all carbon emissions. This internal Microsoft “tax” was established in 2012 to hold its business divisions financially responsible for reducing their carbon emissions.

The funds from this higher fee will both maintain Microsoft’s carbon neutrality and help it take a tech-first approach that will put sustainability at the core of every part of the business and technology to work for sustainable outcomes.

In practice, this means Microsoft will continue to keep its house in order and improve it, while increasingly addressing sustainability challenges around the globe by engaging its strongest assets as a company – its employees and its technologies.

Here, Brad Smith shares the new steps Microsoft is taking in four different areas:

Building sustainable campuses and data centres

Microsoft will continue to build, renovate and operate its campuses in a manner that reduces its impact on the environment.

At its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft has begun work to construct 17 new buildings totalling 2.5 million square feet. The company will remove fossil fuels from these new buildings and run this new addition, as well as the rest of its campus, on 100% carbon-free electricity.

The amount of carbon associated with the construction materials of the new buildings will also be reduced by at least 15%, with a goal of reaching 30%, through a new online tool.

Combined with smart building technology, Microsoft will be the first large corporate campus to reach zero-carbon and zero-waste goals.

In Microsoft’s data centres, the company will continue to focus on R&D for efficiency and renewable energy.

In 2016, Microsoft announced that it would power its data centres with more renewable energy, setting a 50% target by the end of 2018 and topping 60% early in the next decade while continuing to improve from there.

Microsoft hit the first target nearly a year ahead of schedule, and today it’s sharing the news that it will reach the 60% milestone before the end of this year.

As a result, Microsoft is setting its next milestone on the path to 100% renewable energy, aiming to surpass the 70% target by 2023.

It will 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 its reuse, resale and recycling of data centre assets, including servers.

It will additionally add water to its long-standing carbon and energy commitments, launching a new water replenishment strategy where it will replace what operations consume in water-stressed regions by 2030.

Accelerating research through data science 

Data is a critical part of Microsoft’s work and a global transition to a low-carbon future. Data can help reveal a lot about the health of the planet, including the conditions of air, water, land and the well-being of wildlife.

But the help of technology is needed 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.

Microsoft founded its AI for Earth program in 2017 with this challenge in mind. Since then, it has 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 the company has learned there’s still more that can be done to accelerate this work.

Today, Microsoft is 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 Microsoft’s cloud, this will advance and accelerate the work of grantees and researchers around the world. The company will also continue work to bring new APIs and applications to the AI for Earth gallery and mature projects into platform-level services as it has done with land cover mapping.

Helping customers build sustainable solutions

As the world’s needs heighten, Microsoft is working more closely than ever with customers to use digital technology and AI to address sustainability challenges.

Already Microsoft is helping empower 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.

Microsoft call this infusion of technology tech intensity, and it is propelling sustainable growth around the globe. For example, companies like Ecolab and Ørsted are improving water conservation and efficiency of renewable energy with Microsoft Azure, IoT and AI.

Another example is Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, who 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 is also in on the action, keeping its food healthy and safe for two billion people every day. Their goal is to reduce 30% of waste and 30% of energy that goes into food production processing for customers by 2020. 

Silvia Terra, a small start-up, is focused on using AI to improve its 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 Microsoft 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%, while also reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 4%.

This is approximately 2.4 gigatons of CO2, equivalent to zeroing out the 2030 annual emissions of Australia, Canada and Japan combined.

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