Microsoft Sustainability Report: Renewable Purchases Up Almost 70%
Microsoft increased its global renewable energy purchases by nearly 70 percent in FY13, to 2.3 billion kWh, helping the company to achieve its carbon neutrality goal, according to the company’s latest citizenship report.
As Environmental Leader reported last month, Microsoft achieved its goal of net-zero emissions for its data centers, software development labs, offices, and employee air travel.
To do this, it set an internal carbon fee. Business divisions pay a fee according to the amount of carbon they emit – for example, from air travel. The money goes into Microsoft’s carbon fund, and the company invests the money in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon offsets.
The report does not say how much of Microsoft’s zero-carbon achievement can be attributed to efficiency, how much to renewables and how much to carbon offsets.
It does show GHG emissions for the last three years, from which we can calculate some percent changes. In 2012, the company’s GHG emissions rose 2.3 percent to 1.57 million metric tons CO2e, up from 1.53 in 2011 and 1.50 in 2010. Scope 1 emissions rose 2.3 percent last year, from 303,012 metric tons in 2011 to 309,995 in 2012. Scope 2 emissions rose 1.8 percent to 1.2 million metric tons, and Scope 3 emissions (air travel only) rose 19 percent to 48,516 million metric tons.
The tech giant is the second-largest purchaser of green energy in the US, according to the latest EPA rankings, with more than 1.9 billion kWh of green energy, or 80 percent of its US energy use. This is comprised of purchases from Sterling Planet and on-site generation.
In FY14, the company says it is committed to “evolving” the carbon fee, based on current market pricing for renewable energy and carbon offsets.
The report includes results from the 2013 fiscal year, running July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
The company says that it used the GRI G3.1 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines to help determine relevant content and metrics, and that to improve this year’s report, it incorporated information to address a range of stakeholder requests.
The report is rather light on data and context, however. For example, for many of the reductions that Microsoft claims, it does not give baselines or hard figures (such as MWh of energy) and is sometimes unclear on the date the target was achieved. Many of the metrics and trends one would expect to find, such as company-wide energy consumption, water use and solid waste output, are missing from the report. CO2 is stated as an absolute output, not in terms of revenue.
Microsoft does point out its online GRI Index, which provides links to multiple documents where the company says readers can find this data. But it is frustratingly difficult to get a picture of the company’s environmental progress from what should be its main public sustainability document.
It is also notable that the company does not mention any concrete environmental goals, instead using vague aspirations such as “source more renewable power and continue to implement our more sustainable data center designs.”
The company has had such goals in the past, however: in last year’s sustainability report, Microsoft said it met a target of reducing its carbon intensity by 30 percent over 2007 levels.
Microsoft is one of only seven US companies participating in a pilot integrated reporting program run by the International Integrated Reporting Council.
Renewable energy and carbon offsets
The company invested $5.5 million in a demonstration project to power the Data Plant, a data center in Cheyenne, Wyo., that will use biogas from a wastewater treatment facility. Microsoft says it helped Turkey put nearly 465,000 megawatt hours of clean electricity back into its national power grid by investing in the 119 wind turbines of the Soma Wind Farm in the Manisa and Balikesir provinces.
Not included in the report – presumably, it occurred after the reporting period – is Microsoft’s agreement to buy all the output from the 110 MW Keechi Wind project, under its first long-term wind power purchase agreement.
Microsoft is also making research investments into sustainable energy solutions for its data centers.
The company says it offset more than 300,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions through a growing portfolio of innovative carbon-offset projects.
The company says it has “reduced resource use with data centers that use half the energy and between 1 to 3 percent of the water required to cool traditional data centers” – but does not say when it achieved this.
It does say that it is reducing data centers and networks’ energy consumption, and making them more reliable, by “tightly integrating resilient software across our cloud services.” It is also retrofitting data centers with lower-energy servers, compressor energy reduction and LED lighting.
The company implemented adiabatic cooling at its Dublin, Ireland data center, cutting energy costs per megawatt by up to 30 percent.
Microsoft says it dramatically increased insight into energy use at its 125-building, 500-acre Redmond, Wash., campus as part of its Energy-Smart Buildings initiative, helping cut energy costs by an estimated 6 to 10 percent (again, no time frame given). The company uses an interconnected energy-management system to identify savings opportunities by collecting 500 million data transactions from 30,000 pieces of equipment per day. In FY14, it has committed to extending similar programs to several US facilities.
The company says it has also cut its carbon footprint by using Microsoft collaboration technology as an alternative to travel. Tools on its corporate travel reservation site encourage employees to carefully evaluate the business benefit and environmental impact of travel. Since 2007, Microsoft says it has reduced its carbon footprint from air travel by 30,000 metric tons.
The company says its latest air-cooled data centers in Iowa, Ireland, Virginia, and Washington use only 1 to 3 percent of the water required for a traditional data center, and produce no wastewater.
Microsoft says it reduced, reused, or recycled 99 percent of the waste from its Redmond dining facilities (time frame unknown) by switching to compostable tableware, running aggressive recycling programs, and adapting its menu “to get the most from each item of food served.”
The company says batterly-life improvements in Windows 8 include giving PCs and laptops the ability to instantly switch between low- and highpower modes. It cut standby power use for the Xbox 360 by a factor of 10 since the product’s launch in 2005.
It introduced an environmental scorecard into its Design for Green initiative to evaluate energy efficiency, use of recycled or alternate materials, and minimization of packaging earlier in the product design process.
In FY13, the company completed 278 third-party audits and Microsoft assessments of 149 Tier 1 and high- and medium-risk Tier 2 suppliers, up from 267 audits and assessments of 120 suppliers in FY12.
Last year, the Citizenship Report disclosed critical/serious non-conformances from labor-related violations. In this year’s report, Microsoft expanded the disclosure to a broader range of labor, health and safety, environment, and ethics requirements.
It found 22 critical/serious non-conformances overall, and two of these were environmental – both related to wastewater or solid waste. There were no critical/serious findings for the other environmental categories of permits and reporting, pollution prevention and resource reduction, hazardous substances, and air emissions.
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