January 21, 2020
Managed service providers, resellers and other channel partners teaming with the top public cloud providers have the opportunity to tout partnerships that help curb climate change, thanks in part to Microsoft’s pledge that it will reach carbon-negative status in 10 years.
Microsoft’s Brad Smith
“We are launching today an aggressive program to cut our carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, both for our direct emissions and for our entire supply and value chain,” Microsoft president Brad Smith wrote in a Jan. 16 blog. “We will fund this in part by expanding our internal carbon fee, in place since 2012 and increased last year, to start charging not only our direct emissions, but those from our supply and value chains.”
But there was more.
Smith also announced that, by 2050, Microsoft will remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as it has produced since its founding in 1975. That goal in particular is getting a lot of attention.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Cynthia Cummis, the director of private sector climate mitigation at the World Resources Institute, told NPR.
To be sure, industry observers agree that Microsoft has set a gutsy – yet crucial – objective, especially the part about removing all carbon emissions ever released.
All eyes now will be on the corporation’s execution, James Mulligan, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute’s Food, Forests, and Water Program and carbon capture expert, told Forbes.com.
“I do expect other companies will continue to ramp up their own ambition in ways that make sense for their businesses,” Mulligan said, according to Forbes. “Hundreds of companies have already set net-zero targets. As carbon removal technology continues to develop, I expect we’ll see more and more companies – and countries – see a viable path to net-zero and beyond. But we need trailblazers and that’s where Microsoft comes in.”
The influence on the wider technology ecosystem is key, said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research.
“With such a large vendor, partner, customer and supplier ecosystem, Microsoft’s commitment should serve as a catalyst for greater commitments from the broader tech and enterprise community,” Newman wrote in a Jan. 16 post. “Those commitments, which will hopefully take shape, should inspire action throughout the value chain. This type of snowball effect is what I foresee making the biggest impact.”
Indeed, Microsoft itself calls its whole plan a “moonshot.”
“It won’t be easy for Microsoft to become carbon negative by 2030,” Smith said. “But we believe it’s the right goal. And with the right commitment, it’s an achievable goal.”
And while Microsoft is not the first public cloud vendor to work toward carbon-negative status, it is the first to take such bold steps.
“Microsoft’s plan is more ambitious than Amazon’s,” Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash wrote in a Jan. 17 column for Forbes.com.
As evidence, Microsoft aims to move to renewable energy for its buildings and data centers by 2025, while Amazon has its sights set on 2030 for the same goal. Likewise, Microsoft remains 10 years ahead of Amazon when it comes to net-zero emissions: 2030 compared to 2040.
“Moreover, while Amazon committed to net-zero emissions for its operations only, Microsoft’s plan will cover its entire supply chain,” the contributors wrote. “Even more remarkably, unlike Amazon, Microsoft takes responsibility for its historical emissions, with the pledge to remove them from the atmosphere by 2050. In sum, Microsoft is ahead of Amazon in Round 1 of the climate marathon.”
Not to be outdone, Google told The Telegraph this week that it is working hard to do more than be carbon neutral — meaning that it buys as much renewable energy as it consumes. Google Cloud itself has been carbon neutral for 12 years. But Kate Brandt, the parent company’s chief sustainability officer, says that’s not enough. She intends to have Google overall, and its entire supply chain, operating solely on …
… carbon-free energy, although she did not provide a timeline to The Telegraph.
In December, Wired published an in-depth report assessing each of the public cloud provider’s sustainability efforts and pledges (obviously not including January’s details from Microsoft). Read that article here, along with the publication’s grades for each vendor.
The data on the environmental impact of cloud computing varies. Some sources position it as less energy-intensive compared to enterprise data centers, while others view the matter through the wider lens of consumer cloud use, which ramps up consumption and changes the impact.
Nevertheless, channel partners invested in bolstering their public image would do well to make their own green efforts transparent. End users of all stripes are keen to work with eco-conscious suppliers. In this case, not only does “going green” help the planet, it also can be an effective marketing tactic — a bit crass, perhaps, but a true win-win.
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