Microsoft released its 2012 Citizenship Report last week, which includes environmental achievements and targets. In 2011/12 the company achieved its aim of reducing carbon emissions per unit of revenue by 30% compared with 2007. For the 2012/13 financial year the aim is to achieve carbon neutrality and net-zero emissions for its data centres, software development labs, offices and employee air travel by increasing energy efficiency and purchasing renewable energy
The 86-page pdf version of the report can be downloaded here. It covers a wide variety of topics under the general headings of Citizenship at Microsoft, Serving Communities and Working Responsibly, the latter section including the environmental coverage.
In terms of its data centre emissions, the company reports:
• Developing modular data centres that use up to 50% less energy.
• Reducing energy use by using free-air cooling and operating data centres at higher temperatures.
• Eliminated unnecessary components from servers and using higher-efficiency supplies, converters, processors and platforms.
• Cooling a data centre in San Antonio, Texas, using recycled
wastewater from the city’s wastewater system.
To help meet its broader overall targets the company has improved its governance model to increase accountability for environmental goals across the business and has enhanced its carbon footprint tracking system. In the 2012/13 financial year an internal carbon fee is being introduced based on renewable energy and carbon offset prices. The company will also be sourcing more renewable power and addressing energy use in the buildings on its Redmond campus.
In the report Microsoft also talks about how it is helping its users reduce carbon emissions through its solutions and cloud services. In 2011/12 the company created new energy efficient guidelines for its product groups and continued to work on reduce emissions from cloud use.
Review: Microsoft is making progress on reducing internal emissions and it’s also good to see the company also separately addressing the way in which its products and services can help its user be more climate friendly. In the long term this latter point really needs to be the focus. The carbon emissions generated while using Microsoft products is as important as the company’s own greenhouse gas generation.
But Microsoft’s environmental coverage reveals some of the problems and issues for companies targeting and reporting CO2 emissions.
Firstly, Microsoft’s financial year runs from July to June and its environmental targets match those dates. But the actual emissions data published in the report relates to the calendar year, apparently to ‘facilitate reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project’. It makes it impossible to compare actuals figures with targets.
Secondly, the targets and achievements are per unit revenue. It’s a good relative measure, but we’re only going to limit climate change with absolute reductions of CO2. However, in the case of Microsoft, you would expect the plan to become carbon neutral would overcome this issue.
The trouble is that the company reports meeting its carbon reduction goals through ‘a mix of energy-efficiency measures and investments in renewable energy and carbon reduction projects that were externally verified’. Carbon reduction projects means offsets, which can cover a multitude of sins. Perhaps Microsoft provides details of these offset arrangements somewhere else, but, in the context of this Citizens Report, full transparency would include providing an indication of the proportion of carbon offsets that went towards achieving past targets and are expected to be included in the future.