Microsoft has launched a cloud emission software-as-a-service carbon accounting service for customers and reaffirmed its commitment to carbon neutrality by promising that by 2030, “100% of our electricity consumption, 100% of the time, will be offset by zero carbon emission energy purchases.”
The Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability service, which was launched at the Microsoft Inspire virtual partner event, includes services that collect and integrate real-time data to track a company’s emissions performance against targets, allowing businesses to report emissions from the cloud, including Scope 1 to Scope 3 emissions – i.e. emissions caused by the supply chain.
More sustainable cloud
“Organizations must be able to quantify their environmental footprint, communicate it to stakeholders, reduce their resource consumption, offset their carbon footprint through carbon offsets or recycling, and replace high-footprint resources with low-footprint alternatives,” according to a blog post by Judson Althoff, chief commercial officer. “However, doing so effectively requires moving away from manual data entry into spreadsheets and toward a more seamless data flow enabled by data connectors that provide automated, accurate, real-time data — and ultimately, actionable insights.”
The SaaS service will “discover and connect to real-time data sources, accelerate data integration and reporting, provide accurate carbon emission accounting, track performance against goals, and enable organisations to take more effective action,” Althoff explained, citing several use cases.
Additionally, Azure customers will be able to pinpoint specific emission sources, identifying lagging areas such as HVAC systems that fall short of prescribed targets, which can then be assigned to operations engineers as a task.
100/00/0 – the new name of the game
Finally, Microsoft asserts that its new 100/00/0 formulation – “100% of our electricity consumption, 100% of the time, matched by zero carbon energy purchases by 2030” – aligns with the vision that the rest of the world should pursue – electrification coupled with greening the supply.
“All net-zero scenarios envisioned by scientists and policymakers have one critical element in common: a massive increase in electrification,” another blog post by Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer, and Noelle Walsh, CVP, Cloud Operations + Innovation, states. “Electricity-powered vehicles and manufacturing plants have the potential to eliminate significant portions of the global emissions portfolio. However, this is only possible if the electrons used to generate the electricity are generated using zero-carbon energy sources (wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, or point-source carbon capture and sequestration) and then stored and transported to their final destination.
“Unfortunately, this is not the configuration of the world’s grids. Today, the majority of electrons flowing into grids originate from carbon-intensive sources. Energy storage is still in its infancy, and today’s grid infrastructure is incapable of efficiently responding to the varying production capabilities provided by zero-carbon sources, let alone the increasing consumption demands of an electrifying society.”
Microsoft describes 100/100/0 as its long-term vision for the world, but notes that “we refer to this as a vision because we cannot control the outcome on our own.” As with other users, our data centres and offices worldwide connect to the local grid, drawing energy from a vast pool of electrons generated locally and globally from a diverse range of sources. Thus, while we cannot control how energy is generated, we can influence how it is purchased.”
As a result, Microsoft has developed its own 100/100/0 commitment to demonstrate that it is contributing appropriately.
Naturally, not all of the compute power enabled by Microsoft’s electrons will be beneficial to the environment, and not every Cloud for Sustainability customer will be able to demonstrate a clean set of statistics. Exxon, Shell, Halliburton, Total, and a slew of other Big Oil companies have used Microsoft Azure to maximise the amount of fossil fuel they can extract for combustion – while deceiving the public about the consequences of that programme.
A small number of Microsoft employees have demonstrated their opposition to this, for example, by picketing the company’s corporate headquarters during the 2019 climate strike, holding signs reading “No Azure For Oil.” At an all-staff meeting, an employee questioned CEO Satya Nadella about the ethics of supplying companies that are actively destroying the planet, but was told: “There is no fossil fuel CEO who sits there and says, ‘You know, I’m just going to deny climate change.'”