Corporate sustainability is widely agreed to have been born from the ‘triple bottom line’ framework developed by business writer John Elkington in 1997. The concept proposes that continued business success is based not only on financial factors, but also on social and environmental activities.
Results from PwC’s 2021 Consumer Intelligence Series survey on ESG suggest that this theory holds true. The report found that consumers and employees want businesses to invest in making sustainable improvements to the environment and society. Over 80 per cent of both groups indicated that they are more likely to buy from, or work for, a company that actively engages with environmental issues, and more than 75 per cent said the same about social considerations.
Despite this, many businesses have struggled to realise their goals. A 2021 study conducted by Goldsmiths, the University of London and Microsoft, entitled Accelerating the Journey to Net Zero – A UK Blueprint for Carbon Reduction, found that the majority of organisations in the UK were set to miss the government’s target for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The research showed that for many, the issue resulted from a failure to turn strategy into action and a scarcity of in-house skills. It also found that collaboration and technology could be key to fixing the problem.
“If the UK is to meet its net-zero ambitions, public and private sectors need to join forces to define the meaning of real net zero, agree how to measure progress and build markets that can deliver a just, prosperous future for everyone,” said Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, when the research was published ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) last November.
The event was an essential driver in bringing sustainability back into mainstream media and common consciousness, as well as in prompting organisations to develop tangible actions. Of these, the Paris Rule Book has been hailed a success for providing robust metrics for assessing environmental change. COP26 also delivered the Glasgow Climate Pact, an agreement which outlines increased finance for sustainable adaptation, acknowledgement of the loss and damage that is occurring and will occur in the future, and the reduction in coal usage.
Named as a principal partner for the event, Microsoft was involved in helping governments and organisations better understand and access digital technologies that support carbon reduction strategies. Ahead of the event, Barclay said that COP26 represented the last chance for governments to agree on a coordinated approach to net zero through carbon reduction and removal strategies. “The UK led the world once in transforming industry and society, now we must do so again,” she said. “The decisions we make in the months ahead must establish the conditions for inclusive economic opportunity and societal resilience against climate change.”
Since then, Microsoft has shown tremendous leadership in helping its partners pivot away from lacklustre sustainability strategies. According to Microsoft’s March 2022 Partnering on the road to net zero report, 89 per cent of Microsoft’s UK partners have committed to becoming net zero by 2050, in line with targets set by the UK government.
“This research shows that Microsoft’s UK partners are eager to play their part in the UK’s transition to a greener and more prosperous future,” said Orla McGrath, global partner solutions lead at Microsoft UK. “With their deep expertise in delivering innovative technology and consulting solutions, Microsoft partners are well placed to accelerate both their own journey to net zero and that of their customers.”
One such partner is data science and cloud consultancy Elastacloud. The company has created a dedicated department to drive its sustainability agenda through customised products and solutions. It has invested in its Sustainability Studio team, which offers training programmes outlining the basics of climate science and climate artificial intelligence (AI) modelling, for employees to use in everyday decision-making and client offerings. It is also working to create products that measure, monitor and assess carbon emissions using AI, allowing clients to measure their performance against environmental, social and governance targets.
Technology clearly has a key role to play in shifting approaches to sustainability. Microsoft, along with its ecosystem of partners, is well placed to act as a catalyst for change, with solutions that leverage the power of the internet of things, AI and cloud.
For example, in November 2021 Microsoft and Accenture expanded Project Amplify across Asia Pacific to support 33 start-ups and social enterprises that focus on social impact and sustainability in the region. In January 2022, Microsoft began inviting start-ups to join its AI for Environmental Sustainability Accelerator, which was launched to support businesses in using AI to tackle environmental challenges. And in February 2022, Microsoft joined ClimateWorks Foundation’s Carbon Call to meet net zero goals by providing reliable measurement and accounting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“With so many organisations now committing to net zero, one key piece is still missing: a transparent and interoperable system to track, report and compare GHG emissions and removals,” said Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft. “The Carbon Call is a collaboration to enable reliability among the multiple, different GHG accounting ledgers – from the corporate to the national to the planetary. We encourage all organisations committed to net zero to join us.”
To help businesses worldwide address their environmental impact and develop more effective and realistic sustainability strategies, Microsoft launched the Emissions Impact Dashboard in late 2021. The tool enables users to track, analyse and reduce carbon emissions associated with cloud usage. According to Kees Hertogh, general manager of global industry product marketing at Microsoft, the dashboard is “part of our commitment to address our own environmental impact and help our customers do the same”.
Simon Crownshaw, director of worldwide media and entertainment strategy at Microsoft, believes that prioritising sustainability can also have major benefits in terms of customer experiences, particularly in the media and entertainment sector. “Businesses in this space are looking at how they can become carbon neutral or negative, and what those experiences are driving from a cloud perspective,” he explained. “On the Microsoft Azure side, we can use the Emissions Impact Dashboard for media productions, to evaluate where we can make changes and help them see the benefits.
“Media consumers have expectations; they want to know that the content they are watching has been created with the planet in mind. By leveraging the power of the cloud, media creators can reduce their environmental impact, for example by needing fewer trucks on location and fewer people travelling by aeroplane. These are some fundamental things that the cloud is now providing which are critical for organisations, customers and the planet.”
Despite these achievements, there is more to be done. COP26 was a success, but in some cases the event failed to identify and implement specific strategies to prevent the 1.5C global rise in temperature that could have devastating effects on the planet. Countries are still struggling to connect goals with realistic outcomes. For example, a study by Microsoft New Zealand found that in March 2022 the country’s net emissions were 60 per cent higher than in 1990, and one-third of its businesses said they were set to miss the 2050 net zero carbon target without help.
As published in its 2021 Sustainability Report, Microsoft is accelerating its efforts to facilitate real change. Many of these centre around the organisation’s Planetary Computer, which comprises a catalogue of global environmental data to help answer important conservation questions.
In March 2022 the Pacific Community (SPC), which includes scientific and technological organisations from 27 countries and territories within the Pacific Islands, announced the launch of Digital Earth Pacific – built on Microsoft’s Planetary Computer and the cloud – to track and analyse the impact of global disasters and climate change in the region.
“The key to addressing climate change at a company like Microsoft is to partner with every industry to understand how it functions, discern the elements vital to its success, share and adapt solutions, and help our customers chart an informed path to decarbonisation," said Brad Smith, president and vice chair of Microsoft, in the 2021 Sustainability Report.
We asked a selection of Microsoft partners how they are leveraging the firm’s technology to help customers reach their sustainability goals and reduce their environmental impact. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 48 of the digital edition of the Spring 2022 issue of Technology Record.
Andy Byers, strategic director of partnerships at Ansys, said: “We enable our customers to meet their sustainability goals by helping them design products that are lighter, safer, faster to market and more efficient.”
Trudi Hable, global alliance leader for Microsoft at AVEVA, said: “AVEVA and Microsoft are helping customers to use artificial intelligence, digital twins and other technologies to acquire critical data-driven insights, which can optimise operations and drive sustainability goals.”
Michael Cerilli, vice president of digital growth at Ecolab Industrial, said: “The ECOLAB3D intelligence platform helps us track and predict operational performance to help reduce water and energy.”
Alyssa Putzer, marketing communications specialist for Metafile Information Systems, said: “Companies produce a substantial amount of paper waste, but a process automation solution helps to reduce this by automating previously paper-based processes.”
Mary Anne Ballouz, marketing communications writer at ICONICS, said: “Powered by Azure, the ICONICS dashboard provides visualisation and predictive analysis of energy consumption, building performance and occupant comfort, as well as secure control of the building automation system.”
Sam Hall, head of technology at Metrikus, said: “Our solution drives efficiency, gives users detailed analytics surrounding energy usage, and enables them to identify opportunities to improve their buildings’ environmental performance.”
Clay Westbay, vice president of delivery and support at Synergy Technical, said: “By embracing technologies like Microsoft Teams to reduce travel requirements and virtual desktop solutions like Windows 365 to enable ‘work from anywhere’ scenarios, businesses are reducing their environmental impact and power needs while improving their employee productivity and data security.”
Paul Heller, chief evangelist at Sopheon, said: “Sopheon embeds Microsoft 365 apps into the innovation work processes and decision-making streams, enabling companies to better understand exactly how the work they are doing supports their sustainability goals.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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