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At its Inspire 2021 conference today, Microsoft announced Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, a new service in preview designed to help companies measure and manage their carbon emissions by setting sustainability goals. It includes software-as-a-service offerings that can discover and connect to real-time data sources, provide carbon accounting, and deliver insights for organizations to take action.
According to Accenture, 94% of the top CEOs cite sustainability as important or very important to the future success of their businesses. But measuring the overall environmental impact of an organization is particularly challenging. Organizations need to be able to record their footprint, report to stakeholders, reduce their resource usage, and remove their footprint through carbon offsets or recycling. McKinsey found in a recent survey that most companies are struggling to factor sustainability into the “hard” areas of their business, like supply chain, indicating that there’s a potential to drive further integration.
Cloud for Sustainability aims to pave the way by allowing companies to report on carbon emissions from the cloud, devices, and apps as part of their environmental footprint. Customers can connect emissions data sources into one view and use Cloud for Sustainability to publish a scorecard to track progress. Moreover, they can pinpoint areas and audit to see if they’re meeting emission reduction goals. For instance, if an HVAC system isn’t on schedule to meet its reduction target, the task can be assigned to operations to make improvements to reach that target.
Datacenters contribute 0.3% to global carbon emissions, according to a Nature paper. And it’s believed that machine learning models in particular have contributed to the adverse trend. In June 2020, researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released a report estimating that the amount of power required for training and searching a certain model involves the emissions of roughly 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, equivalent to nearly 5 times the lifetime emissions of the average U.S. car.
“At some level, every industry is undergoing sustainable digital transformation,” Microsoft EVP and chief commercial officer Judson Althoff said in a press release. “With Cloud for Sustainability, we’re creating a whole new category, going beyond capturing data to helping customers aggregate sustainability data in an actionable way … [The service] enables any organization more easily and effectively to record, report, reduce, and replace their emissions.”
Growth in sustainability
The launch of Cloud for Sustainability comes as more than two out of three North American consumers claim they’re more likely to favor socially responsible brands, according to the National Retail Federation. Meanwhile, Salesforce reports that 78% of people believe companies are responsible for fighting climate change.
Cloud for Sustainability competes with Salesforce’s Sustainability Cloud, which similarly allows companies to analyze carbon emissions from energy usage by measuring and managing plans. Sustainability Cloud ships with preloaded datasets from the U.S. EPA, IPCC, and others to assess carbon accounting while tracking energy patterns and emission trends, exposing the environmental impact with visualization and dashboards.
Not to be outdone, earlier this year, Microsoft cofounded the Green Software Foundation, a nonprofit established with the Linux Foundation to build an ecosystem of people, standards, tooling, and practices to reduce carbon emissions caused by software development. It aims to help advance the information and communications technology segments targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
In 2020, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by the year 2030, whereby the company will eliminate more carbon from the atmosphere than it generates. By 2025, Microsoft intends to remove all carbon it has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since its founding in 1975, an effort it will pay for with an expanded internal carbon fee, both for direct emissions and supply and value chain partners.
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