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Microsoft ramps its sustainability blitz

Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft

UPDATED: Technology companies are now some of the biggest and most influential on the planet so it’s good news that more of them are going big on sustainability, with Microsoft the latest to ramp up its green commitments. But the suite of announcements has been met with scepticism from some critics who say the company’s efforts are undermined by its dealings with the oil and gas industries.


The global tech giant and household name announced today that it would be doubling down on sustainability and putting it at the “core of every part of our business”.

The company claims it will nearly double its internal carbon fee to $15 per metric tonne (AU$21 per metric tonne) on all carbon emissions, which is described as an internal “tax” that started in 2012 to hold different business divisions financially responsible for reducing their carbon emissions.

“The funds from this higher fee will both maintain Microsoft’s carbon neutrality and help us take a tech-first approach that will put sustainability at the core of every part of our business and technology to work for sustainable outcomes,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said.

“In practice, this means we’ll continue to keep our house in order and improve it, while increasingly addressing sustainability challenges around the globe by engaging our strongest assets as a company – our employees and our technologies.”

The company’s “tech-first” approach to sustainability involves driving adoption of AI for environmental outcomes through its US$50 million (AU$69.9 million) AI for Earth program. 

The company announced a fresh crop of Australian recipients today: Monash University, Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, InFarm, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Bush Heritage Australia.

New research also launched today in partnership with PwC shows the benefits of greater AI adoption for environmental outcomes, including a reduction of global greenhouse emissions by as much as 4 per cent by 2030.

The company has also committed to hosting environmental datasets on its cloud service Azure and make them fully open source and available to the public.

The company is also greening its buildings and infrastructure. After hitting its target to power data centres with 50 per cent renewable energy by 2018, the company is looking to curb the ewaste generated by its data centres with a smart circular server initiative to more effectively resell and recycle servers.

The new Puget Sound campus in Redmond (over 2 million square metres in size) is targeting zero carbon by using 100 per cent clean energy and reducing carbon in building materials. 

The corporate campus is also aiming for zero waste and launching a new water replenishment strategy where all water consumed through its operations in water-stressed regions will be replaced by 2030.

It is also joining the Climate Leadership Council to “advance the policy dialog around a national price on carbon”. Its goal of cutting operational carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 remains.

The announcement follows Australian tech company Atlassian committing to 100 per cent renewable energy (not just carbon offsets) by 2025 last week. At Amazon, 4500 of the company’s staff told its bosses it wants it more action on climate change after the company was accused of being too slow in its promise to become 100 per cent renewable.

But it’s not all good news from the technology sector, with Microsoft still engaged with the fossil fuel industry such as its partnership with Exxon Mobil Corp. It’s not the only one, with Amazon’s staff citing the company’s connections to the oil and gas industry as proof it isn’t doing enough to address climate change.

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