Software giant Microsoft tracks and taxes its carbon output. By investing in clean energy and efficiency, Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Strategist, hopes to make the company carbon neutral. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that they have the will and the technology to tackle the challenge.
GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman.
The largest software company in the world is pledging to shrink its corporate carbon footprint – big time. Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington,with facilities in over 100 countries, is going carbon neutral, cutting greenhouse gases using a method most companies, and countries, have yet to consider: basically, a self–imposed tax. Rob Bernard is Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist.
BERNARD: Today, Microsoft emits one and a half to two million tons of carbon per year.
GELLERMAN: Ooh! That’s a lot of carbon.
BERNARD: Compared to most multi-national corporations, we’re certainly not at the lowest end but we’re certainly nowhere near the high end. Looking at other companies in our industry, we’re about the same.
GELLERMAN: So, how do you hope to go carbon neutral? How do you hope to get it from here to there?
BERNARD: So there’s really two methods. The first is to use far less energy in all of our services and operations and travel less than we do today. And the second goal is to make that energy as clean as possible.
GELLERMAN: Now, the energy in Redmond is mostly hydro.
BERNARD: That’s correct.
GELLERMAN: So, what about energy from coal and natural gas and atomic power, that kind of stuff?
BERNARD: So, there are a few ways. One is you can actually…as you pointed out, in Seattle we’re fortunate that we are able to get and source a lot of hydro-based power. In other places you can also source cleaner energy or you can buy what is called renewable energy credits. Basically, take those credits and take them off the market for others to buy.
GELLERMAN: So, the notion is this as I understand these renewable energy credits: let’s say I have a rooftop solar collector or a company does. I can take the energy that I create cleanly and sell…well, basically, I can sell it as a commodity. I can trade that with you.
BERNARD: That’s correct.
GELLERMAN: And, therefore, you get the credit for my generating clean electricity.
BERNARD: And the value to you as the creator is, because you know companies like Microsoft or others will buy that energy, it allows you to get the investment capital you need to create that new source of energy, which is precisely what we’re trying to ignite in the marketplace.
GELLERMAN:You know, so your commitment to go carbon neutral starting July 1st of this year – I’m just wondering, what took you so long? Google has been doing this going back to 2008!
BERNARD: I think that the thing for us was not just the carbon neutral thing itself – which is interesting and important – but rather how we would approach it. And so what we’re doing is we’re actually creating an internal carbon price, which means that every division of Microsoft in every country we operate in will be responsible for the cost of their emissions.
GELLERMAN: Oh, and then all of your divisions have to report up to the head potato and they have to be responsible and responsive, and have to say ‘ hey, we’re trying to cut our carbon otherwise you guys are levying a fee on us.’
GELLERMAN: How has that gone over with the division heads?
BERNARD: Very well. I think people recognize…you know, we have a long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability, that this is the right thing to do. And so, they recognize that things are going to change as society focuses more and more on the issues surrounding energy use, water use, and a whole bunch of resource use around the world.
GELLERMAN: So, you’re not calling it a self-imposed tax. What are you calling it?
BERNARD: A carbon fee.
GELLERMAN: And how do you calculate this carbon fee?
BERNARD: This is where information technology is critically important. So, if you were to fly to come see us here in Seattle, we’d know what plane you’re taking, what the carbon factor is, how many miles you’re flying, what class you flew. If you were to turn on your lights in your office when you went to work in one office at Microsoft around the world, we know how much energy that you’re using and we know what the carbon factor for that office is. So we can actually calculate how much carbon are you using in all of the activities that you’re dong around the company.
GELLERMAN: And you’re going to be able to account for all of that and do the math?
BERNARD: Yeah, exactly. And this is one of the reasons that, and you had asked why does it take so long? Putting these systems in place does take awhile. And our hope is that by us leading by example, others will following in our footsteps.
GELLERMAN: You know, it’s interesting that here’s Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, and basically you’re imposing your own carbon tax when countries around the world, including our own are not even talking about it.
BERNARD: We’re hoping that by leading by example, we’ll learn a lot of stuff, and we’ll be able to inform, not only other companies and our customers, but also, potentially, a bunch of governments around the world.
GELLERMAN: Because I’ve been to a bunch of climate summits. And I see that Microsoft is there and has a large presence, and actually your company has taken a huge step: you want to have a binding climate treaty!
BERNARD: Well, for us, I mean, I think we’re most interested in how can we impact difference in our own backyard. And then, hopefully, extend that to our customers and partners and if others want to follow our example, that’s great. But the primary thing for us is really thinking about how do we motivate and change behavior in our own company and see if that’s extensible to others as well.
GELLERMAN: So where does this go? What happens now?
BERNARD: What happens now is we move from the pilot to execution starting July 1st, is the date that we kick this off with our systems. And then we’re going to try to create a continuous learning process to see how effective are we at driving down energy use, driving down air travel and at making sure we’re making meaningful investments in clean energy around the planet.
GELLERMAN: July 1st, kind of like a carbon independence day.
BERNARD: Or the start of our fiscal new year.
GELLERMAN: Always thinking about the bottom line.
BERNARD: And the planet!
GELLERMAN: Mr. Bernard, thank you so much.
BERNARD: Thank you so much.
GELLERMAN: Rob Bernard is chief environmental strategist with Microsoft.
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