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The New Year is upon us, and 2013 is expected to be a busy year in environmental sustainability, with GreenBiz predicting in a recent story on 2013 trends that investment in smart buildings and smart cities will continue to grow. The first few days of 2013 also included a down-to-the-wire political showdown as the fiscal cliff was narrowly averted by Congress. The environment was a winner in the final deal, which renewed the wind energy tax credit for an additional year.
In the New York Times best-selling book Ready Player One, the protagonist powers his laptop by bicycle. While Microsoft is seeking other alternative energy sources to power the cloud, we are also big proponents of bicycle commuting at our Puget Sound campus, home to 50,000 employees. In fact, the League of American Cyclistshas deemed Microsoft a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Business among other recognitions.
At our Redmond campus, Microsoft incorporates many amenities for two-wheeled commuters, including 23 covered and secure parking cages, on-site bicycle shops with subsidized tune-ups and complimentary shower facilities at all worksites. In addition to the bicycle lanes throughout our campus, the network of regional trails in Redmond extend the safe and functional experience for our cyclists. In fact, Redmond is home to the only velodrome in Washington State and proudly calls itself the Bicycle Capital of the Northwest.
Anyone following sustainability conversations this week would see that climate change remains front and center. Capturing a number of headlines was a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the U.S. and the second “most extreme.” Elsewhere in corporate sustainability, Walmart launched “My Sustainability Plan,” a program for their employees which helps tackle sustainability issues in their own lives.
What if there was a giant computer model that could dramatically enhance our understanding of the environment and lead to policy decisions that better support conservation and biodiversity? A team of researchers at Microsoft Research are building just such a model that one day may eventually do just that, and have published an article today in Nature (paid access) arguing for other scientists to get on board and try doing the same.
When Drew Purves, head of Microsoft’s Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group (CEES) and his colleagues at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, United Kingdom, began working with the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC), they didn’t know they would end up modeling life at global scales. “UNEP-WCMC is an international hub of important conservation activity, and we were pretty open-minded about exactly what we might do together,” says Purves. But they quickly realized that what was really needed was a general ecosystem model (GEM) – something that hasn’t been possible to date because of the vast scale involved. In turn, findings from a GEM could contribute to better informed policy decisions about biodiversity.