I just read an article in the Washington Post stating that Microsoft aims to go carbon neutral in its direct operations, starting in fiscal 2013. As I read the details as reported, my reaction was what you see above: Wow.
Why wow? Well, they have reached the point where they have enough information on these operations to measure their carbon impact. Now, they propose to charge a fee to each business unit based on their lack of carbon neutrality. And that’s fundamentally different from what I’ve seen from any business before.
You see, this approach embeds drastic reductions in net carbon emissions in the company financials, and therefore in the company culture – and that is only one of two approaches that have proven to work in situations like this in the past (the other is “World War II in America”, where the whole population is mobilized to fight a global war on carbon emissions). No other company approach that I have seen delivers the potential message: you don’t do this right now, your business (in this case, business unit) goes under. And that message is precisely appropriate to the situation we find ourselves in.
At this point, some readers should be itching to point out that Microsoft is applying this method far too weakly and with far too narrow a scope. And that is true, too. It appears that the fee is not yet strong enough to clearly deliver the “out of business” message. Microsoft needs to apply this to indirect operations, else its units will simply offload the emissions to outsourcers. Microsoft needs to re-source its energy almost entirely to “clean” energy sources – and that doesn’t mean natural gas. Microsoft needs to reduce the net carbon emissions associated with use of its products (almost entirely on PCs) to 10% of their present level. And, last and least, Microsoft needs to reduce its employees’ carbon emissions from travel to and from work to 10% of their present level. Oh, yes; Microsoft needs to do all this (plus what it is doing) starting right now, and be finished within the next 10 years, and keep those net carbon emissions, from then on, level in absolute terms indefinitely into the future.
Yes, all this is true; and it’s also true of every other business I hear of. Even the most aggressive of countries (I think Germany and Norway might qualify) also suffer from these flaws. That is why I typically say, looking at our situation, that our present best-practices reactions to the climate-change crisis are pathetically, disastrously inadequate. But here, at last, on a very small scale, is a long-term company strategy that imho has any probability at all of being adequate in the short and long run.
Microsoft, wow. Take a bow, you deserve it. Now you need to do it a hundred times better. Starting right now.