Working towards a sustainable environment

Technology giant Microsoft is set to achieve carbon-neutral status for its global headquarters in Puget Sound, Washington, after inking a multi-year deal to source clean energy from local hydropower facilities.

Microsoft's headquarters have been based in Puget Sound since 1979

Microsoft’s headquarters have been based in Puget Sound since 1979

Under the five-year power supply agreement, which was made between Microsoft and utility supplier Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) earlier this week, Microsoft will receive hydropower directly from PUD’s three dams to heat, light and cool its campus buildings.

The tech company is yet to disclose exactly how much power it will source in this way, or what proportion of the facility’s overall energy consumption it will account for. However, it claims that the hydropower sourced through the agreement – coupled with an additional renewable energy purchase agreement which is set to see the firm contract a new wind or solar facility in Washington – will enable the campus to reach ‘zero-carbon’ status. The additional renewable energy project is in the final stages of negotiation and is due to be sited and operational within the next five years.

In a bid to drive change beyond its own operations, Microsoft will additionally support PUD in its drive to keep the renewable power it generates within the state, therefore ensuring that it delivers environmental and economic benefits to the local region. It will do so by encouraging other businesses, as well as public sector bodies, to follow its lead and source more locally generated clean power.

“This agreement provides much more than renewable energy for Microsoft — it’s an investment in new opportunities for communities in central Washington and the competitiveness of Washington state,” Microsoft’s general manager for corporate responsibility and technology Shelley McKinley said.

“We’re proud to be powering our Puget Sound operations in a way that reduces carbon emissions, supports the clean energy sector and supports efforts to expand connectivity.”

Logging on for cleaner power

The new clean energy partnership has also seen Microsoft sign a memorandum of understanding with the PUD to collaboratively deliver broadband connectivity to the most rural parts of Chelan County.

PUD is currently striving to expand broadband connections across 85% of the region – up from 75% at present – while Microsoft is aiming to bring broadband to three million people across rural areas of the US by 2022 under its Airband initiative.

The memorandum will see revenues raised through PUD’s hydropower sales earmarked for broadband expansion and further clean energy investments, with Microsoft supplying technical assistance to help deliver these technologies. 

Low-carbon leadership

The completion of the hydropower deal comes in the same week that Microsoft doubled its internal carbon fee to $15 (£11.40) per tonne, in a bid to hold its business divisions financially responsible for reducing their emissions. The fee was first established in 2012, with all funds raised through this mechanism ring-fenced for investments into green technologies.

The move to increase the fee forms part of a sweeping array of new steps which Microsoft has developed to assist in its drive to reduce its absolute carbon emissions by 75% by 2030. Measures include hosting more extensive environmental data science sets, advocating for stricter environmental policies through membership to the Climate Leadership Council and developing artificial intelligence (AI) products and services for uses across the low-carbon sector. 

Microsoft has additionally pledged to develop a water replenishment strategy, with a headline aim of replacing the equivalent of what its operations in water-stressed areas consume by 2030, and a building strategy which will reduce the carbon footprint of the materials used in its new buildings by 30%.

The commitments build on the company’s membership to the We Are Still In declaration, where, along with more than 900 other companies, it has committed to operate in line with the Paris Agreement, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the framework.

Microsoft’s carbon targets have been rubber-stamped by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), with a drive to reach a 60% renewables target “early in the next decade” set to play a key role in meeting these goals. The company’s global renewable energy portfolio currently stands at around 1.4GW.

Sarah George