Updated: Aug 20, 2021
As part of our #EarthDayAtTech360, we checked out various technology and technology-enabled companies to highlight some incredible efforts that they have taken to show their commitment to sustainability and to protecting the environment. Earth Day started in 1970 and every year since, the world comes together to demonstrate support for environmental awareness and protection on April 22.
Today, we’re talking to Lorena Paglia, Worldwide Sustainability Community Chapter Lead for Singapore / Asia, Microsoft on what the company’s plans are moving forward to become carbon negative, educating the younger generation on sustainability and more.
Q: Microsoft has stated its plan to be carbon negative by 2030, could you briefly take us through some of the initiatives that are being undertaken?
Sustainability is now a business imperative to tackle the world’s urgent climate needs. Our sustainability efforts are two-fold – we aim to be carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050, to remove the equivalent of all the carbon the company has emitted in the environment since its founding. In addition to reducing our own footprint, we are also investing in carbon removal projects globally, forming new partnerships to accelerate decarbonization everywhere.
In India, for example, we are supporting the restoration of historic dense forests with a community-led approach to encourage farmers to replant on degraded or unused land. Over the next 13 years, we anticipate this initiative will remove a total of 9,000 mtCO2 – the equivalent of replacing more than 1,600 homes’ electricity emissions for a year. The groups we work with within the community will also receive 70% of the profits generated from carbon credit sales.
In Australia, we are supporting efforts to increase soil organic carbon, which is used to improve soil and reduce carbon emissions, with more holistic cattle grazing management practices across four ranches or cattle stations, totaling more than 18,000 hectares of grasslands. Durable for 25 years, this is anticipated to contribute to the removal of 93,338 mtCO2. Additionally, we have invested in diverting and converting green waste from food, agriculture and wood processing that is burned or landfilled into high-carbon biochar and clean syngas. This contributes an estimated 600 years of durability to remove 400 mtCO2.
We are also tackling climate challenges by reducing consumption, with goals to be water positive and zero waste through material reuse and recycling by 2030, as well as to protect and restore more land than we use by 2025. Our biodiversity efforts are supplemented by a new “Planetary Computer”, an ambitious program to aggregate environmental data from partners and customers around the world from satellites, AI and machine learning and use the resulting output to enhance environmental decision-making in Microsoft’s and their organizational activities.
Q: With sustainability lessons included in Minecraft: Education Edition, are there any statistics on how many people have accessed the world? Are there any other interesting education methods that Microsoft is looking at for the younger generation?
Embracing a sustainable future means engaging and involving the younger generation now, to encourage action and drive future innovation.
Inspired by the themes in our 2020 Environmental Sustainability Report, we launched a new Sustainability Map on Minecraft in January 2021, designed for kids to explore how different sustainability processes work in a city environment. We have exciting content that covers real-world simulations so students can immerse themselves in sustainable food production, a local recycling plant, a sustainable forest or a water treatment plant, to name a few.
Our aim is to reach learners to cultivate their sense of stewardship for our planet by making sustainability fun and inspiring for young users from an early age. The map is available for free for the more than 132 million monthly Minecraft players and 35 million teachers and students in 115 countries that are licensed to use Minecraft: Education Edition in the classroom. A curriculum around the lessons in Minecraft: Education Edition will also be shared with licensed teachers to help guide the content’s use in the classroom.
In our relentless pursuit to foster innovation, we held the 19th edition of Microsoft’s global student technology competition Imagine Cup this year, where the brightest young minds worked together virtually to reimagine solutions to solve today’s global challenges in four categories: Earth, Education, Health and Lifestyle.
Within the Earth category, a team from New Zealand’s Massey University developed “ProTag”, a smart ear tag for livestock that can detect the early onset of illness in real-time. The solution collects data in a cloud database for analysis and lowers the costs of animal welfare along with improving farmers’ peace of mind, to positively impact the environmental ecosystem. Another team in Asia from Nepal’s Kathmandu University developed “Pico Sat”, a miniature version of an environmental satellite. Utilizing machine-learning, Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and PowerBI it analyses altitude, temperature, humidity, pressure, dust and pollution levels in real-time to detect anomalies and improve weather prediction.
I am so heartened to see the many bold ways our younger generation is so invested in caring for and exploring creative solutions for our planet – imagine what they can do to change the world for the better!
Q: Microsoft announced that progress towards sustainability goals will be included as a factor in the determination of executive pay, how would this work and what was the thought process behind this decision?
Looking ahead, we know that we can only have a better and more progressive world when we take greater responsibility and ownership for our climate and environment. Institutions play a big part in advancing this. With the exponential increase in sustainability initiatives that we are embarking on, we are also enhancing transparency and accountability, starting with our executives.
Since 2016, we have tied a portion of Microsoft’s executives’ compensation to environmental, social and governance measures starting with diversity representation gains and we’re seeing results. In our core Microsoft business, we have seen much progress in diversity, where the number of women managers has increased by 55.4% from 2016 to 2020, while female partners and executives in technical roles have more than doubled since 2016.
Between now and July 2021, the Compensation Committee of Microsoft’s Board of Directors will be assessing, reviewing and approving changes around making progress to tie executives’ compensation to sustainability.
Q: Will the current pandemic situation delay the 2030 carbon-neutral plan?
Our commitment to carbon negativity and the release of the 2020 Sustainability Report was achieved and announced in the midst of COVID-19 – a demonstration of Microsoft’s unwavering spirit to tackle this urgent global issue.
While the pandemic presented challenges with limitations on mobility and struggles that plagued organizations around the world, the pressing need to care for our environment remains. We are progressing a series of sustainable initiatives and we are continuing to advance these causes, supporting and bringing projects to fruition.
Together with my team at Microsoft, the fire that ignites our passion to achieve more for our planet continues very strongly – and we are excited for what a cleaner and greener future brings.