Should tech giants get tough on global warming?
Microsoft has announced its ‘commitment to environmental leadership’, pledging to be carbon neutral by July 2012. But does this pledge lead us anywhere greener than the garden path?
According to Microsoft, all its data centres, labs, air travel and buildings will be carbon neutral by the July deadline, and an ‘internal carbon fee’ will let parts of the business offset carbon emissions.
As a result, Microsoft will buy carbon offsets and renewable energy to compensate for emissions that aren’t eliminated through improved efficiency.
Technically, Microsoft could reach its target through carbon offsets alone, and still build vast coal-powered data centres. This would reportedly cost the company less than $10 million a year (barely a dent in the $5.11 billion in profits from the last quarter).
Either way, Microsoft’s pledge will provide a counter to criticism on the energy sources driving cloud computing, as highlighted in the Greenpeace campaign, ‘How clean is your cloud?’
Companies should report emissions
On Wednesday, the Aldersgate Group (an alliance of businesses and environmental groups) published a poll revealing 75% of UK adults said large businesses should be required to report carbon emissions. It looks like there’s an appetite for details of how companies power their businesses, so $10 million per year might be a justifiable spend for a huge shot of positive PR.
Microsoft’s announcement might encourage other energy-intensive outfits to consider ways of tackling their emissions, which would definitely be a good thing. But does it really reflect Microsoft’s stance on global warming?
Microsoft and the Heartland Institute
In a blog announcing its drive towards becoming carbon neutral, Microsoft’s Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Turner, says:
‘We believe climate change is a serious challenge requiring a comprehensive and global response from all sectors of society.’
Some find it difficult to reconcile this stance with the fact Microsoft has received calls to cut funding it’s apparently made to the Heartland Institute, a climate-change denying US think-tank. The Heartland Institute recently had to pull an ad campaign comparing climate change believers with serial killers.
The ad used an image of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, next to the line ‘I still believe in global warming. Do you?’. A document leaked in February 2012 linked Microsoft to the think-tank and campaign group Forecast the Facts claims Microsoft has ‘refused to stop supporting the Heartland Institute’.
Microsoft could arguably express its ‘commitment to environmental leadership’ in other ways. It reportedly gets 46% of its energy from renewable sources, but greater investment here might make more sense than setting targets involving offsets for efficiency measures it doesn’t meet.
What would you like to see Microsoft doing next, or do you think it’s doing enough? Do you agree that big brands and energy-hungry companies have a responsibility to lead the way in a global response to climate change?
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