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Microsoft’s Dismal, Baffling Report

MicrosoftReading Microsoft’s latest citizenship report is an exercise in frustration for anyone trying to glean useful environmental insights.

The report touts Microsoft’s vast expansion of renewable energy purchases as an effort that allowed it to reach net-zero emissions. But hang on – the report also shows that all three scopes of GHGs increased from 2011 to 2012. It’s hard to draw clear lines since Microsoft reports GHGs by calendar year (to facilitate CDP reporting) and renewable energy purchases by financial year. But one is left wondering whether the company had to greatly expand renewable energy purchases (and, perhaps, carbon offsets?) because it failed to realize carbon savings through efficiencies.

The point is, we shouldn’t be left to wonder. The report should explain these trends and choices, and the company does itself a disservice by leaving the interpretation up to readers.

The report does point readers seeking more environmental data to Microsoft’s GRI Index. And that is certainly a useful way to organize a company’s treasure trove of data. But these indexes are not an excuse to publish sustainability reports nearly devoid of any meaningful information on companies’ environmental progress.

A sustainability report is the tool that most stakeholders will look to for a quick takeaway on the company’s environmental efforts. That’s because, when well executed, they are easy to read and comprehend. In contrast, if shareholders, customers, suppliers, the media or any other Microsoft stakeholders wish to familiarize themselves with the company’s latest environmental record, they will have to sift through multiple documents – essentially, they will have to write their own report.

Microsoft should know better. It is, after all, one of the only US companies participating in the International Integrated Reporting Council‘s pilot program. But while exploring the next frontier in sustainability reporting, the company seems to have forgotten to tend to its hearth.

Takeaway: Microsoft’s latest citizenship report provides surprisingly little information, and instead relies on readers to puzzle the jigsaw together themselves.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

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