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Note: This post also appears today on the Microsoft Green Blog.
By Rob Bernard, Microsoft Chief Environmental Strategist
Microsoft’s adoption of our carbon neutrality commitment and the creation of an internal carbon fee are helping drive an increase in our purchase of renewable energy and carbon offsets. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized us for our leadership in purchasing nearly 1.9 billion kWh of green power. In addition to our green power purchases, we seek to drive research breakthroughs that will enable us and others in our industry to increase our use of renewable energy. We and our business partners are also working with an increasing number of customers in the renewable energy space to use the power of cloud computing to help them grow their business.
Our purchase of renewable energy is growing due to our environmental commitments and for business reasons. Under our internal carbon fee, we have chosen to increase our operating costs when we rely on carbon-intensive energy sources. This helps increase the business value of finding cost-effective renewable energy options to power our operations. We are updating the next version of our Global Public Policy Agenda to reflect this. (As background, we publicly post our Global Public Policy Agenda each year to communicate to government officials -- and all of our stakeholders – our point of view on public policies that we believe benefit both Microsoft’s business and spur economic growth and help countries achieve their own national priorities.)
As we update our Global Public Policy Agenda for 2014-2015 we will strengthen the energy and environment section with regards to renewable energy. Our current policy agendahas this to say about energy and environmental challenges:
Address energy and environmental challenges. Reducing energy use and limiting the effects of climate change will require technological advances and innovation. Governments can help in this effort by promoting wide-scale broadband connectivity and deployment of smart devices. We encourage policymakers to adopt policies that will stimulate innovations in energy technology and provide market-based incentives for private investment in the transition to sustainable, low-carbon energy sources and technologies. For example, policies that promote state and local investment in intelligent transportation technologies are a cost-effective way to ensure that transportation systems are safer and more efficient. Such technologies can provide accurate, real-time information to measure system performance and manage the transportation network. Cloud computing can also play an important role by providing tools to measure and reduce energy use in the home, factory, and office—and reduce the environmental impact of IT itself by decreasing the energy use and the carbon footprint of computing by 30 to 90 percent per user.
We plan to enhance this with this addition: “Given Microsoft’s carbon neutrality commitment and imposition of an internal fee on carbon associated with our energy use, we gain business value from cost-effective policies that increase the availability of low carbon and renewable energy for us to use in our operations.” Beyond this, Microsoft is also joining the growing number of companies who have signed on to the Climate Declaration, a nonpartisan statement from the business community that “tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st Century.”
While these steps make clear where we stand on the importance of renewable energy, we sometimes face questions about differing positions on energy and climate issues that have been taken by other groups we belong to have taken. As you would expect, Microsoft works with a wide range of groups across the political spectrum addressing policy issues important to our business. We work with many of these groups on narrowly-tailored technology policy issues and not the full set of issues they address. Our engagement with a particular group is not an endorsement of all the policy positions those groups have taken. For instance, we’ve received some questions about model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council that would repeal renewable energy mandates at the state level. To clarify this issue, Microsoft participates in ALEC’s Communication and Technology Task Force, as do many leading companies in the technology sector. We do not participate in any other ALEC task forces or provide any support or funding for ALEC’s work on environmental issues or other issues outside of communication and technology policy. In short, ALEC is not speaking for us on renewable energy policy.
Speaking of speaking, we know that actions speak louder than words, and that corporate policies need to be backed up by material commitments towards greater sustainability. We’ll have some significant new actions on renewable energy to share with you soon. Watch the Microsoft Green Blog (or even better subscribe to the RSS feed) for more updates on renewable energy and Microsoft’s progress around environmental sustainability.