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Microsoft is taking a stand against climate devastation by hiking its internal carbon tax in a new sustainability drive. On Tuesday, the company announced that it nearly doubling its internal carbon fee to $15 per metric ton on all carbon emissions. The company introduced the internal carbon tax back in 2012. The fee is charged based on energy use from the company’s data centers, offices, and factories, and emissions from its employees’ business air travel. Now, the funds from this higher fee will maintain Microsoft’s carbon neutrality and help meet their sustainability goals.

Microsoft is aiming to use 70% renewable energy to power its data centers by 2023. For comparison, Google reached 100% renewable energy for its global operations — including both their data centers and offices in 2017. In April, this year Apple announced that its global facilities are powered with 100 percent clean energy. This achievement includes retail stores, offices, data centers and co-located facilities in 43 countries. Amazon has been the slow one in this race. Although, Amazon announced that it would power data centers with 100 percent renewable energy; since 2018 Amazon has reportedly slowed down its efforts to use renewable energy using only 50 percent.

Microsoft has started the construction of  17 new buildings at their Washington headquarters. These buildings will run on 100 percent carbon-free electricity. Also, the amount of carbon associated with the construction materials of these buildings will be reduced by at least 15 percent, with a goal of reaching 30 percent. This would be monitored through Embodied Carbon Calculator for Construction (EC3), a new tool to track the carbon emissions of raw building materials. What is missing from this plan, is a complete transition off of fossil fuels rather than relying on carbon offsets.


Microsoft is also joining the Climate Leadership Council (CLC). CLC is an international policy institute which promotes a national carbon pricing approach. “In addition to our internal carbon tax”, Microsoft says, “we supported the recent Washington state ballot measure on pricing carbon and believe it’s time for a robust national discussion on carbon pricing to lower emissions in an economically sound way.”

Microsoft is also aggregating and hosting the environmental data sets on its cloud platform, Azure, and make them publicly available. These data sets, Microsoft notes, “are large government datasets contain satellite. and aerial imagery, among other things, and require petabytes of storage. By making them available in our cloud, we will advance and accelerate the work of grantees and researchers around the world.”

Finally, the company will also scale up the work it does with other nonprofits and companies tackling environmental issues through their own data and Artificial Intelligence expertise.

Responsible tech leadership or climate washing?

Although, Microsoft plans to address quite a number of climate change and sustainability issues, what is missing are commitments for structural and business goal level changes or commitments.

A report by Gizmodo highlights the lengths that Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other tech companies are going to help the oil industry accelerate the climate crisis—and there continued profits from this process. Per Gizmodo, Bill Gates heads a $1 billion climate action fund and has published his own point-by-point plan for fighting climate change. Notably absent from that plan is “Empowering Oil & Gas with AI”. Microsoft is also two years into a seven-year deal—rumored to be worth over a billion dollars—to help Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil companies, better extract and distribute oil. Microsoft Azure has also partnered with Equinor, a multinational energy company to provide data services in a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Microsoft has also partnered with ExxonMobil to help it triple oil production in Texas and New Mexico. Microsoft also has a 7-year, multibillion-dollar deal with Chevron.

Instead of making profits from these deals Microsoft could be prioritizing climate impacts in business decisions, including ending partnerships with fossil fuel companies that accelerate oil and gas exploration and extraction.

Last week, Over 4,520 Amazon employees signed an open letter addressed to Jeff Bezos and Amazon board of directors asking for a company-wide action plan to address climate change and an end to the company’s reliance on dirty energy resources. Their demands: “define public goals and timelines to reduce emissions; complete ban from using fossil fuels; ending partnerships with fossil fuel companies; reducing harm caused by a company’s operations to vulnerable communities first; advocacy for local, federal, and international policies to reduce carbon emissions and fair treatment of all employees during extreme weather events linked to climate change.”

Microsoft Workers 4 good who created their own petition for Microsoft to do better, endorsed the stand taken by Amazon employees and called for all employees to encourage their employers to take actions for climate change. Microsoft’s closed employee only petition was launched in February where Microsoft employees were asking the company to help them align employee’s retirement investments with Microsoft’s sustainability mission.

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