Combating the climate crisis can feel like we’re at the mercy of mega-corporations with extraordinary economic and political power. I’m not discounting the power we as individuals hold, but with our earth desperately needing support, we really need corporations to step up. In a recent press release, Microsoft announced plans to become fully carbon negative by 2030. As one of the world’s largest tech companies (posting a revenue of $125.8 billion in 2019), Microsoft has the power to move the needle with this single decision.
What does carbon negative mean?
Carbon negative is simply removing more carbon from the atmosphere than is emitted.
For Microsoft, this means they plan to remove more carbon than all of the carbon emitted from their operations and production of goods. With less carbon in the atmosphere, Microsoft will not only have removed their carbon footprint, but will have removed extra as well.
Speaking in front of a wall of green plants, Microsoft’s CEO, president, and CFO share the details of their commitment and plan to reach carbon negative status (click here to watch the full 45 minute video).
Summary of Microsoft’s commitments:
- By the year 2030
- Reduce emissions by half
- Remove more carbon from the air than they emit
- By the year 2050
- Remove all historical carbon that Microsoft’s emitted since the company’s inception in 1975.
Microsoft’s current carbon footprint:
They shared their current carbon footprint measured by carbon tons emitted annually:
- 100,000 metric tons from diesel generators and vehicles used to transport employees and products
- 4 million metric tons from the electricity used to create products (such as data centers and powering buildings)
- 12 million metric tons from indirect value-chain emissions such as the electricity used when other people use Microsoft products (i.e. people using electricity for their xbox or laptop)
- Total = 16,100,000 metric tons emitted annually.
Microsoft’s carbon negative plan
Here are the steps of action (listed in no particular order) that I drew from Microsoft’s full press release:
- Invest in afforestation and reforestation
- This approach is known as nature-based removal, as trees can remove carbon from the air
- Soil carbon sequestration
- Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage
- Invest in new carbon-removal technologies, such as Direct Air Capture (DAC)
- DAC filters the carbon out of the air and which can be used again as fuel or pumped back into the earth (watch this 14 minute video for more details on DAC)
- $1 billion investment in a climate innovation fund
- With the goal of accelerating the development and invention of carbon reduction and removal technologies
- Pledge to the United Nations
- Signing the United Nations business ambition pledge for 1.5 centigrade, showing their commitment for the world to work together to slow the impact of carbon emissions
- Taking an active role on environmental policy
- Expanding global and applied efforts on carbon
- Removing regulatory barriers for carbon-reduction technologies (that would slow adoption of these technologies like DAC)
- The use of market and pricing mechanism-based incentives to put a price on carbon
- Empowering consumers with information on the carbon content of goods and services (Like a nutrition label sharing the amount of calories per serving, this information would detail a product’s carbon footprint)
- Renewable Energy
- Microsoft buildings to be powered 100% by renewable energy (i.e. wind, solar)
- Campus vehicle fleets to become fully electric
- Improve campuses to be zero-carbon emissions
- Enforce internal carbon taxes from departments within Microsoft
- Progressively raise tax to 15 dollars per metric ton of carbon emitted
- Tax dollars would go into work towards reducing carbon emissions.
- Supplier requirements
- Add requirements for their suppliers to adopt eco-policies which would enable and incentivizes suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint
- Committing to transparency
- By publicly sharing annual reports of company carbon emissions
Well-intentioned or just a publicity stunt?
Should we give Microsoft kudos or is this commitment another form of greenwashing?
Questioning the intention behind Microsoft’s commitment is not uncalled for. The last thing we need is for a corporation to hide harmful practices behind hopeful messages. While I do think this announcement should garner positive attention, I still think we should applaud with a critical eye.
For one, I’m curious about the Direct Air Capture (DAC), a technology that Microsoft’s commitment seems to rely on. It turns out, Bill Gates, one of Microsoft’s founders has already begun backing this work through a company called Carbon Engineering. Watch this video for a look at the carbon-filtering machine being built by them. Steve Oldham, Carbon Engineering’s CEO says, “One of our plants does the work of 40 million trees.”
I do question whether DAC technology will advance enough to reach Microsoft’s 2030 goal. The video reports that construction on the first commercial DAC plant, won’t begin until 2021, and operations won’t fully be running until years after that. So is a 2030 carbon negative date possible? For the sake of the environment, I truly hope so.
What does this mean?
At the very least, Microsoft acknowledges climate change is a problem. This is small step forward, but still surpasses other powerful organizations (i.e. Koch Industries) who deny climate change and actively oppose progressive policies from taking place.
Perhaps we can rejoice in corporations who are making positive changes and challenge those who aren’t. For example, Amazon has recently silenced employees speaking out on the company’s environmental practices (check out this post to learn more).
I may be wrong to celebrate too early, but I can’t help the elation I feel when mighty corporations use their power for good. In the wake of Microsoft’s commitment, we can only hope that other companies follow suit, and follow through.
What do you think about Microsoft’s commitment? Do we dare hope for change from big corporations?
Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft