2014 – The year Microsoft achieved carbon neutrality

The concept of carbon neutrality as a realistic business objective was only dreamed up in the late 90’s. Hardly surprising then that so few global businesses have so far reached this ambitious target. Nevertheless, in 2014, less than two years after committing to the principle, Microsoft is now achieving it.   

What is carbon neutrality?

Carbon Neutrality is an easy concept to understand but difficult and expensive to achieve. It means that whatever C02 a company generates has to be measured, reduced and offset by other means. For many businesses this is underpinned by ‘carbon credits’ – basically the practice of balancing undesirable but unavoidable side-effects with positive investments and practices. It is merely one of the many ways that Microsoft is now reducing adverse environmental impact across all its global operations.     

Why we did it

Carbon neutrality is clearly aspirational for any big business, but it was also urgently needed. Between 2009 and 2012, Microsoft invested over $3 billion in cloud computing; a shift we correctly predicted would soon become essential to our customers. However, this required new facilities such as data centres that would create new sources of energy usage and CO2 emissions. Consequently, a bold new carbon reduction strategy was needed to offset this whilst continuing our significant record in social and environmental responsibility. 

How we did it

Microsoft’s global drive towards carbon neutrality was based on three strategic pillars:  

  • Be lean - reducing energy usage across our data centres, labs, and offices as well as air travel in over 100 countries worldwide. In the UK, we have achieved around  38% of our energy target savings so far; for instance, by replacing boilers, air conditioning plant and upgrading lighting and Building Management Systems at TVP.
  • Be green - reducing waste and water use and purchasing renewable energy. Microsoft UK is the first EMEA subsidiary to add electric cars and charge points at its TVP campus for employees and visitors, as well as a guaranteed car-sharing scheme for commuters.
  • Be accountable - making business units care more about carbon impact by charging an internal carbon fee to offset more than 600,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Additionally, there was a raft of broader initiatives, such as investing in programmes that reduced environmental impact across all businesses operations; from facilities and supply chain to the efficiency of our software products.

As a result, Carbon Neutrality is now being achieved in 2014, directly protecting ecosystems and impacting nearly 3 million people through projects to improve health, income and employment opportunities.  And this is far from the end of our ambitions.

What it means to all of us

Carbon Neutrality is a landmark achievement but also an affirmation that Microsoft can continue to use technology to push boundaries, raise expectations and challenge long-standing assumptions wherever we operate. From investing in renewable energy, to championing equal opportunities and business transparency, this is only the start of what we can realistically expect to achieve in future.    

For more about this and Microsoft’s other environmental and ethical commitments, please see our Corporate Citizenship Report 2014.