Like every smart company, Microsoft is thinking about sustainability. Rob Bernard, the companyâ€™s head of sustainability, tells me that MSFT is working to measure and reduce its own footprint, build data centers that use less energy and partner with groups like the Clinton Foundation to design software and services that helps cities measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Recently, Microsoft asked me to write an essay about the role of technology in driving sustainability. Hereâ€™s how it begins:
Technology got us into this messâ€”a planet thatâ€™s heating up, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Our cars, our homes, our office buildings, our appliances, our computers, MP3 players and big-screen TVs all require burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Thatâ€™s the bad news. The good news is that technology can get us out of this messâ€”although not by itself.
As the environment writer for FORTUNE magazine, Iâ€™ve always enjoyed visiting Silicon Valley. Itâ€™s brimming with ambition and ideas and optimism and the can-do spirit that, not to be too corny about it, helped to make America what it is today. Places like Silicon Valley, where inventors, entrepreneurs and investors come together, will enable us to made an exciting and dramatic transition to a new clean energy economy.
You can read the rest of the essay here.
Mindy Lubber, the president of CERES, the investor coalition devoted to environmental issues, also contributed an essay to the MSFT Environment site. Hereâ€™s my favorite excerpt:
…some of the technologies we once believed would lighten our environmental footprint have proven, in practice, to be problematic in their own right. Consider the way in which vast quantities of information travel today. At first blush, sending an e-mail would certainly seem to be “greener” and cleaner than mailing a letter. The letter requires paper derived from wood taken from forests that are disappearing at an alarming rate. Forestry requires heavy equipment to cut and haul wood, burning fossil fuels in the process. And turning wood into paper is also carbon intensive, not to mention the environmental impacts of the chemicals used to turn wood into pulp and pulp into paper. And the letter itself has to be transported in fuel-burning trucks and airplanes. An e-mail, by contrast, seems to speed through the ether leaving nary a trace. But, it isnâ€™t so. Though more environment friendly than a letter, the e-mails we send require computers that consume energy to manufacture and operate. And because computer technology advances so quickly, the life span of the average computer is just a few years. The result? A massive solid waste and chemical disposal challenge.
Fortunately, the technology industryâ€”which is all about adaptation and changesâ€”is taking environmental issues seriously. IBM, Intel, Dell, HP and especially Google are all pressing forward with aggressive green initiatives.