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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

May 8, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Microsoft launches company-wide carbon offset program

Microsoft announced today it’s launching a company-wide program where each division and business unit worldwide will be responsible for offsetting its carbon footprint via internal fees and other measures.

It works like this: Say you work in the Office division. If you take a plane trip, you create a certain carbon footprint, which is translated into a dollar amount that the Office division pays into a company central carbon offset fund.

The idea is for the company to be carbon neutral starting in fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1.

Each division will pay into the central fund to offset its carbon emissions. Microsoft is talking with several nonprofits to figure out the best use of those funds to purchase renewable energy and carbon offsets.

The plan takes advantage of data tracking to be able to more closely monitor each division’s carbon emissions data. It creates a business incentive for divisions to become more aware of, and to more closely watch, their energy use, said Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist.

The goal is for divisions to reduce their carbon emissions through measures such as taking less plane trips and increasing their use of renewable energy. The internal carbon fee is levied for emissions that are not eliminated through such measures.

“We recognize that we are not the first company to commit to carbon neutrality, but we are hopeful that our decision will encourage other companies large and small to look at what they can do to address this important issue,” Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said in an official blog post.

The fee will be applied to Microsoft operations in more than 100 countries, including its data centers and software development labs.

Earlier this year, Microsoft noted it had reached its goal of reducing its carbon emissions at least 30 percent per unit of revenue below its 2007 baseline. The company was also recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the third largest purchaser of green power in the U.S.

But it also got dinged earlier this year by Greenpeace, which said that Microsoft, along with other big tech companies like Amazon.com and Apple, were using some “dirty” energy sources — such as coal and nuclear — to power its data centers that run its cloud services.

Greenpeace responded to MIcrosoft’s announcement today with a statement from senior IT analyst Gary Cook, who said it was a good first step.

“However,” Cook said, “the devil is in the details, and the details will show whether Microsoft becomes a transformational leader in moving us toward a clean cloud, or continues to rely on coal. As written, the plan allows Microsoft to keep building data centers that rely on coal, such as its new investments in Virginia and Wyoming, yet claim to be carbon neutral by buying renewable energy credits (RECs). That tactic looks good on paper, but won’t power Microsoft’s cloud with one more electron of clean electricity.”

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