Microsoft to power 70% of data centres with renewable energy sources by 2023

Microsoft to power 70% of data centres with renewable energy sources by 2023
Microsoft has set new targets for its own sustainability.
Published: 16 April 2019 - 8:04 a.m.
By: Mark Sutton

Microsoft has announced a ‘doubling down' on sustainability, which aims to use technology to improve its carbon footprint and encourage more businesses to focus on their environmental impact.

In a blog post by company president Brad Smith, Microsoft announced a commitment to powering 70% of its data centres with renewable energy sources by 2023, and plans to double its own internal carbon tax.

The plan will also include a ‘smart circular server initiative to resell and recycle its data centre assets; plans to make its Puget Sound campus a zero-carbon development, commitment to water conservation, and hosting of more open datasets on environmental issues on Azure, to make data readily available to researchers and the public.

The company will also join the Climate Leadership Council, an international policy institute to promote carbon dividends and put a price on carbon emissions from companies.

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft's Chief Environment Officer, told itp.net that the aim was to create a "blueprint to ensure we embed sustainability into every corner of our company".

Microsoft has already made and achieved long-term commitments on sustainability, such as operating as a carbon-neutral company, Joppa said, but the company now intends to become a corporate leader and to encourage everyone to take action on climate change.

"The real reason we are making this commitment is from a deep sense of impatience on this issue," he said. "We realised just being as green as possible inside of our own data centres, when you look at the scope and scale of the environmental issues that we are facing... it is wholly insufficient criteria to having the global scale impact that the world needs on sustainability."

The company has also conducted research with PwC to look at how AI and other technology can help companies to meet sustainability targets while also having a positive impact on the bottom line. The research shows that using AI for environmental applications across just four key sectors - transport, energy, agriculture and water - could potentially boost global GDP by 3.4 - 4.4% while also reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by around 2.7 - 4.0% by 2030 relative to Business as Usual (BAU).

Microsoft has already achieved 50% of its data centres powered by renewable sources, Joppa said, and it is on track to meet its current target of 60% renewables by early next year, so a new target of 70% by 2023 will be set, Joppa added.

The Puget Sound campus will be made ‘zero carbon' by using only clean energy and reducing carbon in building materials.

The company's internal ‘carbon tax' will be almost doubled to $15 per ton. The tax is applied to every business unit across the company, after a comprehensive annual audit assesses carbon emissions, from everything to energy use in buildings to business air travel and more. Each unit then has to pay the fee for its carbon emissions, and the money is reinvested into improving Microsoft's own energy efficiency, and in programs such as its AI for Earth initiative, which makes AI tools and expertise available for environmental usage.

Joppa explained that the carbon tax helps Microsoft to incentivize business units to use renewables, maintain the company's commitment to being carbon neutral and invest in carbon neutral technology.

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