/ Technology

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?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

We do seem to have a carbon dioxide obsession, despite the fact that the link between carbon dioxide production and global warming remains questionable. A better goal would be to cut down our use of fossil fuels on the basis that we are fast using up what is readily accessible and future generations will need coal and oil to make chemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc.

Rather than report emissions, why not report use of energy derived from non-renewable resources? That would be much easier to quantify.

Profile photo of m.
Member

Getting tough usually means useless waffle & spin.
The phrase that scares me is when they threaten to reform something!

Profile photo of dean
Member

Agreed wavechange.

Why do companies always have to look as if they are “getting tough” on something. It’s just a buzz phrase for politicians.

Like getting tough on drugs, drivers using their mobile phones etc etc, just words that placate stupid people

Profile photo of m.
Member

This whole carbon trading ‘industry’ has provided me with endless amusement, I am happy to report that in my lifetime I have seen 2 man made wonders built from nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
The creation of a multi £billion religion from the mind of a single individual to a world wide movement. Scientology.
The creation of a multi £billion industry literally from thin air, which does absolutely nothing but make money from some very savvy people. Carbon trading.
Both of these I find very similar as they highlight the gullibility of mankind.

No matter what side of the climate change debate you are on, or even if you don’t give a fig, all must agree, carbon dioxide reduction means carbon dioxide reduction, not telling someone else they have the right to produce so many tons per year, but because they don’t, they can sell that right to someone else.

No doubt someone will throw statistics, figures, comparative CO2 emission rates and who knows what else, to show this is a viable and necessary industry which has substantially reduced CO2 emissions world wide, I say it’s all total rubbish, aimed at keeping the con going.

This statement from this report shows exactly why this industry is a total fabrication.
‘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)’.

Maybe it’s not so amusing when you realise that this fabricated industry is now used by our Governments to levy even more taxes on us

Member
Em says:
14 May 2012

Unless Microsoft are going to be drifting about on the wind in helium balloons, or use chip oil in their executive jet engines, there is no such thing as carbon-neutral air travel. And planting an extra tree or two isn’t going to offset the carbon released from burning kerosene, unless they can guarantee the carbon sequestered is locked down for several millennia. As the company has barely been in existence for a quarter of a century, I don’t share their confidence.

What a number of these “environmental leadership” companies are doing is outsourcing/offshoring the carbon-intensive aspects of their business, so they can appear to be squeeky clean, and buy off the rest of their pollution with some carbon offsets. I don’t have a particular problem with big business – just their hypocrisy.

Profile photo of Tim Gee
Member

Today O2 revealed they’ve had their carbon footprint verified by the Carbon Trust.

Apparently a five minute phone call will use the same amount of CO2 as boiling enough water to make one cup of tea.

Is this too much information? Would it put you off making calls?

Profile photo of m.
Member

Too much misinformation!
I would love to see the math behind this one 🙂
Do you mean produce the same amount of CO2?

Member
hilary sheppard says:
18 May 2012

As far as global warming is concerned, don’t think it exists as its well into may 2012 and still have my heating on really cold, We need some global warming. Feel everyone is having a laugh. Few yrs ago we had summers, where have they gone.