Microsoft pledges to be ‘carbon negative’ by 2030, launches $1B Climate Innovation Fund

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announces the company’s long-term climate initiatives Thursday morning on the Redmond campus. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

REDMOND, Wash. — Microsoft says it will be carbon negative by 2030, removing more carbon from the environment than it emits each year, and will remove enough carbon by 2050 to make up for all of its emissions and electrical consumption since its founding decades ago.

In addition, the company will launch a $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund designed to encourage the development of new carbon reduction and removal technologies.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the pledge Thursday morning during an event at the company’s Redmond headquarters, detailing a sweeping new plan to eliminate Microsoft’s environmental impact and also give its partners and customers new tools to address theirs. He said Microsoft has a particular obligation to address the issue as a global technology company.

“If we don’t curb emissions and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us the results will be devastating,” Nadella said. “Each of us must take action, and that includes businesses.”

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, described the company’s initiative as unprecedented, and said the company is “doing the equivalent of going back in time” by addressing its historical emissions. He called it “a bold bet to solve a big problem.” Smith showed this chart, projecting the planned reduction in the company’s carbon impact.

Microsoft Chart

Microsoft said the new fund will leverage its balance sheet to loan money and take equity stakes in ventures to encourage the development of new environmental innovations. The money will be invested over the next four years. The company cited four criteria for investments, including sustainability initiatives, market impact, technological advances, and climate equity, addressing the tendency of climate change to disproportionately hurt people in developing countries.

“We deeply understand this is just a fraction of what is needed to solve this problem,” said Amy Hood, the company’s chief financial officer, outlining the plan at the event this morning.

Microsoft’s move could pressure, or inspire, its counterparts to follow suit by escalating their own climate initiatives. Its announcement last year of a $500 million affordable housing plan for the Seattle region, was followed by similar, and in some cases larger, housing affordability initiatives. Microsoft this week announced it will spend an additional $250 million on the housing plan.

Amazon last year announced its own plan to reach carbon neutrality across its businesses over the next 20 years, a decade ahead of the 2050 deadline set by the Paris Accord.

Microsoft said it is signing the United Nations’ 1.5-degree Business Ambition Pledge, and said it will publicly track its progress in an annual Environmental Sustainability Report.

Climate is also a key issue for Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, who continues to serve on its board. He reviewed Microsoft’s new initiative but wasn’t involved in its creation, according to people inside the company. Gates has invested in a variety of green energy initiatives, as well as next-generation nuclear energy, and leads the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund and initiative. He has a book about climate change coming out later this year.

In an interview with GeekWire after the announcement, Smith acknowledged the challenges that Microsoft will face in implementing the plan.

“This is going to require sustained execution literally by every part of the company,” he said. “It is one thing to have a big goal. It is a second thing to have a detailed plan, and it is a third thing to have consistent, excellent execution, and we are going to need to have all three, and we’re committed to doing that. It’s easier to give a speech than to make it real.”

Wrapping up the Microsoft event, Smith likened Microsoft’s climate initiative to successful efforts by the United States to put the first people on the moon more than 50 years ago.

“The ultimate moonshot,” he said, “is to preserve this planet.”

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