When you think of Microsoft, computers almost always come to mind. If you are in the tech space, then you’re likely to think of artificial intelligence, the Xbox and the Microsoft Azure in addition to computers. Microsoft is amazing at what it does, but what may not be at the forefront of your thoughts is Microsoft’s commitment to sustainability.
The tech giant was recently ranked as the most environmentally friendly company in the United States. The ranking is conducted by Just Capital, a nonprofit organisation founded by billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones that analyses 1,000 of America’s biggest companies and judges them on their environmental actions and the effectiveness of the companies’ sustainability policies.
Microsoft’s various policies towards sustainability earned it the top spot, a feat that speaks volumes when one considers that its ideals and objectives is not directly linked to the environment. Their current policies are centered around a new vision to “put sustainability at its core and take a tech-first approach to boosting sustainability outcomes and returns on the environment across its operations, products and work with customers, data science and policy engagements.”
True to the saying that charity begins at home, most of Microsoft’s eco-friendly policies have to do with how the company runs its day-to-day operations which include:
- The implementation of a smart circular server initiative to more effectively resell and recycle servers across its datacenter footprint;
- Plans to make its facilities, including its Puget Sound campus ‘zero carbon’ by using only clean energy and reducing carbon in building materials;
- The hosting of the world’s leading environmental datasets on Azure and making them fully open source and available to the public;
- Joining the Climate Leadership Council to advance the policy dialog around a price on carbon. The company is one of the biggest American companies to get behind a carbon tax policy; currently charging a $15 carbon tax from companies with which it it does business with.
It should also be noted that Microsoft’s environmental achievements lies not necessarily in what the company does in itself, but in what it empowers others to achieve. For instance, in 2017 Microsoft launched its AI for Earth Grant Program an initiative that supports and partners with environmental groups and researchers to tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems such as climate change, by marshaling the immense power of AI, machine learning (ML), and the cloud. By doing so, it prompts other organisations to ask – if Microsoft is doing this, what can we do to help?
Two years on, over 260 research projects have been funded in 63 countries, covering four areas: climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and water, all of which are yielding results on a daily basis. Some of the projects are people facing (apps that can be used by ordinary citizens) while many others are firmly within the scientific realm. One example, Project Premonition aims to use drones and other automated robots to find, trap, and gene sequence mosquitoes to prevent the spread of diseases like malaria, Zika, and Ebola. Whichever project it may be and wherever in the world it is conducted, from South Africa to India, these are all projects taking great strides at conserving our environment and fighting climate change.
To better learn the extent of Microsoft’s efforts, it is necessary to understand AI technology. Artificial intelligence is unarguably the most advanced form of computing. It teaches computers to recognise and crunch data and patterns with speeds and accuracies that humans can only envy. Whether it is the ability to recognise and classify all the animals in a given jungle or predict the effects of climate change, in the hands of an expert, AI can be extraordinarily tailored to suit the job.
Now we know that the challenge of climate change is an extraordinary one. It has been referred to (and justifiably so) as the greatest challenge to face modern man because its impacts are so far reaching that they are sometimes difficult to fully comprehend. To combat this threat, we require (on top of everything else) extraordinary science and data and with that, extraordinary computing power.
Microsoft as we know produces extraordinary computing power (such as the AI tech) but is also goes the extra mile to place it in the hands of remarkable scientists that can help solve our global problems.
According to PWC research conducted in partnership with Microsoft, the economic and environmental benefits of greater AI adoption include:
- A boost in global GDP by as much as 4.4% by 2030;
- The reduction of global GHG emissions by as much as 4% by 2030;
- Gains of as much as $5.2 trillion driven by optimization, productivity and automation;
- Th reduction of up to 2.4 gigatons of CO2 equivalent;
- The reduction of carbon intensity of as much as 8% relative to business as usual, to mention but a few.
Whether you are a fan of big companies and their glossy sustainability policies or consider these activities to be feel-good exercises in the name of public relations, Microsoft has shown a commitment to sustainability that goes beyond press briefings. Here, we have an old Igbo proverb that in its simplest translation, extolls a person that embarks on positive actions, the fruits of which he might personally not enjoy. Like knowing you might not alive long enough to enjoy the shade provided by a tree but planting it today anyway. The actions and policies of Microsoft fit this bill and encourages us to keep up our good work.
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Feature image of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella via Microsoft.