Microsoft Corp. on Thursday, Jan. 16 announced what company President Brad Smith called a “new moonshot,” the urgent need to address climate change, as he and other Microsoft executives outlined the company’s plans to employ technology, transparency, and money to reduce and then wipe away its carbon footprint, and help others address the planet’s climate-warming crisis.
“The ultimate moonshot is to preserve this planet,” Smith told a crowd of employees and media gathered in the technology giant’s Building 99 atrium in Redmond. “This is an issue and a challenge so big that no single company, no individual, no country can solve this by itself, but we’re here today to say one thing above all else: At Microsoft, we will do our part and more.”
Opening the event, CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft is committing to become carbon negative by 2030, not just across its direct emissions, but also across its supply chain. By 2050, he said, Microsoft pledges to remove from the environment all the emissions the company has emitted directly or by electrical consumption since its founding in 1975.
Solving the carbon problem requires new technology, Nadella said, announcing a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate development of carbon-reduction and carbon-removal technologies. Digital technology will play a critical role in tackling these issues, he said, adding that Microsoft will work to develop and deploy tech that helps its customers in all sectors reduce their own carbon footprint.
“This is the decade for urgent action for Microsoft and all of us to take bold steps forward to address our most pressing challenges,” Nadella said. “We hope you will join us on this journey because each of us must commit to do more in order for us to collectively achieve more.”
Beginning next year, Microsoft will make carbon reduction an explicit aspect of its procurement processes for its supply chain, it said in a news release recapping the announcement. A new annual Environmental Sustainability Report will detail Microsoft’s carbon impact and reduction journey, and the company will use its voice and advocacy to support public policy that will accelerate carbon reduction and removal opportunities.
Smith walked the audience through the reasons urgent climate action is needed, noting that carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere for more than 2,000 years, adding that more than 2 trillion metric tons of carbon have been emitted since the 1750s. This year, humanity will emit more than 50 billion metric tons of greenhouse gasses, he said, calling the issue a problem of “enormous scale and extraordinary longevity and effect.”
Every person, company, and country needs to do its part if that is to be managed effectively, Smith said.
Being transparent, Microsoft said it is currently responsible for about 16 million metric tons of emissions across the three scopes of its business each year, including its vehicle use, electricity consumption for its data centers, buildings, supply-chain related emissions, and more.
“What no company has said before, is that we’re going to take this number of 16 million and on a net basis by 2030, we will get it below zero. So that means that we’re going to be reducing our emissions and then removing from the environment more carbon than we are emitting.”
Even bolder, because carbon persists for so long, “we in effect are doing the equivalent of going back in time,” he said. Between 2020 and 2050, as the company gets to net negative, it will keep going and remove from the environment all the historical emissions Microsoft has emitted directly or for its electrical use since it was founded.
“That’s the kind of progress the world really needs,” Smith said.
Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood, in noting the company’s commitment to invest $1 billion over the next four years to help solve the climate challenge, said the company is inspired by seeing technology and innovation solve world problems.
“We deeply understand this is just a fraction of what is needed to solve this problem and we hope that, by doing this, we’ll set an example for both governments and other companies to invest along with us to solve this problem,” she said.
Microsoft is committed to focusing on accelerating technology already being tested and developed today, and to invent new technologies, which is likely to take the form of debt or direct equity investment by the company, she said.
Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer for Microsoft, cited the company’s new “sustainability calculator” for Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing customers to better understand the carbon emissions associated with the use of their cloud workloads and see the potential carbon benefits of moving to the cloud. It’s one of many products and features the company will roll out in coming years to give customers “carbon clarity,” as well as tools to help them optimize and reduce their carbon impacts, he said.