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For the past several years, I’ve used Earth Day as an opportunity to look at Microsoft’s progress on environmental sustainability issues over the past 12 months and where we are headed in the year to come.
The most significant progress to report is around Microsoft’s work to achieve carbon neutrality in our current fiscal year. We announced this commitment last year. I’m excited we made the commitment and are on track to meet it, but I am even more excited about how we’re meeting it. We are one of the very first companies to put an internal price on carbon emissions, which provides our business and operational groups more awareness and incentives to conserve energy and seek renewable power. The fee enables us to invest in renewable energy credits and certified offset projects to meet our carbon neutrality goal. I attended the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen a few years ago where the nations of the world tried and failed to achieve a global system for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, I’m struck that Microsoft is one of very few organizations in the world today imposing a carbon fee across operations in 100+ countries in a way that makes economic and environmental sense.
When you look across the modern urban landscape, you can see buildings of all shapes and sizes, from iconic architectural landmarks like Seattle’s Space Needle to the mix of old and new buildings that define modern skylines. Buildings define the character of a city in their individuality, but they have one thing in common the world over--they consume a lot of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), more than 4.2 million commercial buildings waste an average 30 percent of the energy that owners and tenants pay for. And commercial buildings account for nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., which means that increasing a building’s energy efficiency has benefits across society.
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.