Microsoft’s proactive stance towards sustainability and philanthropy is well renowned. The company’s commitments to become carbon negative, water positive, and zero waste by 2030 while building a Planetary Computer are also well known across the globe. In its latest annual sustainability, the company has highlighted the progress made by it in the last year and its determination to stay committed to its goals.
Areas of Focus
According to the report, the company has the following areas of focus as it works towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2030.
The consequences of climate change are increasingly apparent, from wildfires to devastating flooding. The scientific reality of climate change is more accepted than ever before – to avert the worst effects of the rapidly changing climate, the world needs to transition to a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050. But there is still a lack of key strategies to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The world needs agreement on the meaning of global net-zero emissions, measurement to track progress toward net-zero, and mature markets for carbon reduction and removal that are necessary to get us there. Through its operations, technology, and advocacy, Microsoft is addressing these three areas to help drive the change that society needs. The company’s strategy to reach carbon negative by 2030 is relatively simple— reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions to near zero by improving efficiency, adopting new solutions, and purchasing zero-carbon energy.
Microsoft is engaging suppliers and business groups to cut the Scope 3 emissions by more than 50 per cent. It has further made a decision to rely on carbon removal to reach carbon negative. This year, Microsoft took strides forward on zero-carbon energy, continued progress on carbon removal, and improved methodologies and measurement of emissions data across the company. It will continue to further refine how it measures and approaches these categories as it moves forward. The company also took new steps to accelerate the work of others via the launch of a new solution, the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, to help its customers measure their carbon emissions more effectively, and created resources to help decarbonize its supply chain.
“Getting ahead of the world’s water crisis will require a reduction in the amount of water used to operate economies and societies, as well as a transformation in the way we manage our water systems,” says Brad Smith, President and Vice-Chair, Microsoft.
The scientific consensus is clear: water security and mankind’s capacity to safeguard sustainable access to quality freshwater resources is increasingly at risk. There is a global increase in water demand that follows population growth, economic development, and changing consumption patterns. Research by WRI projects that by 2030, there will be a 56 per cent deficit in water supply relative to demand if no actions are taken to alleviate this. At present, about 25 per cent of the global population lives in countries that suffer from water stress, and one in ten people lack access to safe drinking water.
Microsoft is committed to becoming a water positive company by 2030. The company aims to do this by continuing our water stewardship work across our operations, building on the steps taken to reduce water consumption in its data centres and campuses over the past decade. In addition to reductions, the company seeks to become water positive through expanding access to clean water and replenishment projects.
With 1.1 billion people in the world without access to clean water, it’s not enough to simply reduce and replenish—there is a need to improve people’s access to safe, clean water. Microsoft’s goal is to provide access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation solutions for 1.5 million people while accounting for 25 billion litres of net positive water impact in high-stress watersheds where we also operate, namely India, Indonesia, and Mexico, by 2030.
3. Zero Waste
Every year, people consume 100 billion tons of materials, and in 2020 only 8.6 per cent of those materials were cycled back into the economy after use, according to the 2021 Circularity Gap Report. Linear systems and existing infrastructure are not adequate to maintain, collect, and redistribute materials effectively for a global circular economy. As a result, waste, including plastics, e-waste, and food waste, pollutes our land, clogs our waterways, depletes natural resources, and contaminates the air we breathe.
Microsoft recognizes the urgent need to protect the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems, give equal access to a safe and healthy environment, reduce carbon emissions associated with the creation and end-of-life of these materials, and meet the needs of a growing population. As a company that makes and manufactures devices, as well as uses manufactured goods in its campuses, data centres, and operations, it recognises its obligation to responsibly source materials and an opportunity to build a more circular approach into its work and the world.
To reach its commitment to become a zero-waste company by 2030, Microsoft is taking an increasingly circular approach to materials management to reduce waste and carbon emissions. The company’s strategy goes beyond waste diversion as it works across its value chain beginning with design and material selection. Wherever possible, it reduces the amount of materials needed. It responsibly sources materials for operations, products, and packaging. It is increasing the use of recycled content, selecting recyclable or compostable materials, reducing hazardous substances, and designing out waste. It keeps its products and materials in use longer through reuse, repair, and recycling programs.
4. Healthy Ecosystems
Healthy ecosystems are critical for a healthy planet —environmental sustainability can’t exist without ecosystem sustainability. Unhealthy ecosystems, created or exacerbated by climate change and biodiversity collapse, threaten our entire civilization. And yet, according to the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES-8) study, the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than previously thought. Put simply, humans are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.
Microsoft recognizes that ecosystems are the thread that connects all its sustainability commitments. Ecosystems are where the company invests in carbon sequestration projects that help in achieving carbon negativity. In the past year, Microsoft has made considerable progress towards its leading ecosystem commitments of protecting more land than it uses and delivering its Planetary Computer to provide access to the world’s critical environmental datasets and to function as a computing platform that enables partners to measure, monitor, model, and manage healthy ecosystems.
5. Planetary Computer
Microsoft is driving transformation when it comes to researching and enabling the accessibility of technologies to support ecosystem health. The company believes that its biggest contribution to the protection of ecosystems is to identify, invest in, and orchestrate a coherent cloud infrastructure that brings together all relevant stakeholders and offers best-in-class science-driven tools, AI, digital catalogues of species, distributed computing frameworks, and global satellite images. The manifestation of this work is what the company calls the Planetary Computer. This open-source solution includes data catalogues, APIs, and applications to empower both data scientists and environmental scientists to craft more effective and informed strategies to protect and restore ecosystems.
In conclusion, Microsoft is taking decisive steps to reduce its carbon footprint and reach net zero by 20230. It is not only paving its own path but is also providing tools to the rest of the world, easing their action towards environmental sustainability.
Disclaimer: This report contains extracts from the Microsoft Annual Sustainability Report 2021.