Microsoft President Brad Smith, Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood and CEO Satya Nadella preparing to announce Microsoft’s plan to be carbon negative by 2030. (Jan. 15, 2020/Photo by Brian Smale)

Microsoft yesterday announced its ambitious plan to not only reduce but ultimately remove its carbon footprint on the environment.

"By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975."

Referring to what it called an urgent carbon problem of fundamental importance to every person alive today and for every generation to follow, it called on humanity to achieve “net zero” emissions. 

"...we need to use more energy while reducing our emission of carbon."

"Advances in human prosperity, as measured by GDP growth, are inextricably tied to the use of energy," President Brad Smith posted to the Microsoft blog. "This is true for the future as well as the past. If we’re going to continue to create more economic opportunity and prosperity, it likely will require even more energy use. This is true everywhere in the world, and it’s perhaps especially true among the world’s developing economies, which deserve the opportunity to catch up with the level of prosperity in more industrialized nations."

For more than two centuries and especially since the 1950s, economic development has required an ever-increasing amount of carbon emissions. This is the part of the past that we need to change. In short, we need to use more energy while reducing our emission of carbon.

Carbon Neutral Since 2012

This trajectory isn't new for Microsoft. They first became "carbon neutral" in 2012 by investing in offsets that primarily avoid emissions instead of removing carbon that has already been emitted. Through their efforts in the last decade they've realized that isn't enough and are now shifting focus. 

"While it is imperative that we continue to avoid emissions, and these investments remain important, we see an acute need to begin removing carbon from the atmosphere, which we believe we can help catalyze through our investments."


Microsoft: Carbon negative by 2030

On January 16th, Microsoft launched their aggressive program to cut their carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, both for their direct emissions and for their entire supply and value chain.

"While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so."


Microsoft's current emissions:

Microsoft reported that they expect to emit 16 million metric tons of carbon this year.

  • About 100,000 metric tons are scope 1 emissions (direct emissions  — like the exhaust from the car you drive, or for a business, the trucks it drives to transport its products from one place to another or the generators it might run).
  • About 4 million are scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions that come from the production of the electricity or heat you use, like the traditional energy sources that light up your home or power the buildings owned by a business).
  • The remaining 12 million tons all fall into scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions that come from all the other activities in which you’re engaged, including the emissions associated with producing the food you eat, or manufacturing the products that you buy. For a business, these emission sources can be extensive, and must be accounted for across its entire supply chain, the materials in its buildings, the business travel of its employees, and the full life cycle of its products, including the electricity customers may consume when using the product).

Definitions: “Carbon Neutral,” “Net Zero,” & "Carbon Negative"

  • Carbon Neutral: When emissions are offset with payments either to avoid a reduction in emissions or remove carbon from the atmosphere. 
  • Net Zero: When emitted carbon is actually removed.
  • Carbon Negative: When more carbon than is emitted each year is removed.


So What's the Plan?

1) Drive down scope 1 and 2 emissions to near zero by the middle of this decade through the following steps:

  • By 2025: Shift to 100 percent supply of renewable energy for all our data centers, buildings, and campuses.
  • By 2030: Electrify global campus operations vehicle fleet.

2) Reduce scope 3 emissions by more than half by 2030 through new steps, including the following:

  • July 2020: Start phasing in current internal carbon tax to cover our scope 3 emissions. 
  • July 2020: All business divisions start paying an internal carbon fee for all their scope 3 emissions. 
  • By July of 2021: Implement new procurement processes and tools to enable and incentivize suppliers to reduce their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.

3) Remove more carbon than emitted by 2030 and removing all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975 by 2050. 


How Will This Be Accomplished? 

Smith outlines that their plan is to use an annual portfolio of negative emission technologies (NET) potentially including afforestation and reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs), and direct air capture (DAC) determined by assessing NET attributes pertaining to four criteria: 

  1. Scalability;
  2. Affordability;
  3. Commercial availability; and
  4. Verifiability.

"Solving our planet’s carbon issues will require technology that does not exist today."

In order to stimulate and accelerate the development of carbon removal technology, Microsoft is using their new Climate Innovation Fund to invest $1 billion over the next four years into new technologies and expand access to capital around the world to people working to solve this problem. Investments projects will be selected based on four criteria: 

  1. Strategies that have the prospect of driving meaningful decarbonization, climate resilience, or other sustainability impact;
  2. Additional market impact in accelerating current and potential solutions;
  3. Relevance to Microsoft by creating technologies we can use to address our unpaid climate debt and future emissions; and
  4. Consideration of climate equity, including for developing economies.

Additionally, Microsoft plans to invest in carbon monitoring and modeling projects through their AI for Earth program, which now supports more than 450 grantees across more than 70 countries.


Empowering customers around the world
Microsoft believes; however, that their most important contribution will come from helping their customers around the world reduce their carbon footprints through education and tools using data science, artificial intelligence. Their announcement makes specific mention of working with their customers in the oil and gas business, to help them meet today’s business demands while innovating together to achieve a net zero carbon future. 

"It’s imperative that we enable energy companies to transition, including to renewable energy and to the development and use of negative emission technologies like carbon capture and storage and direct air capture."

You can follow their progress in their public annual Environmental Sustainability Report.



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