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Microsoft’s New Environmental Plan and How it Could Affect the Gaming Industry

On Friday, Microsoft held their own press conference to discuss their plans to combat Climate Change. While I thought nothing of it at first, I decided to tune in out of sheer curiosity. How will one more multibillion-dollar company make empty promises to help the quickly growing issue of our climate? This curiosity immediately turned into amazement. There were no empty promises. There were only facts, science, and a $1 billion commitment that Microsoft is investing into. So, what exactly did Microsoft say, and how does it tie into the Games Industry?

Step 1: By the end of this decade, Microsoft will be operating at carbon negativity. To explain what this means, I first must go over Carbon Neutrality. Since 2012, Microsoft has been operating at Carbon Neutrality, meaning any and all carbon emissions that Microsoft has produced, they have either removed a similar amount of carbon from the atmosphere, eliminated their emissions, or a mixture of the two. Microsoft is also one of very few companies who actually charge internal businesses, including themselves, for their direct emissions with a “Carbon Fee”. This fee has been in place since 2012 and all proceeds drive their environmental efforts. Now, to be Carbon Negative means that they are pulling out more CO2 from the atmosphere than they contributed that year. This will require some major tech, ingenuity, and science to pull this off, but that Carbon Fee mentioned earlier will be funding this. In addition, by 2030, over half of their Scope 3 emissions by half (Scope 3 emissions indirectly come from your products being used, your building materials, employees’ average daily lives, travel, etc. In other words, it’s emissions that a company has no control over but are still contributing to with their products usage). How are they doing this in 10 years? Well, they’re changing how their campus and all of their data centers, subsidiaries, and anything that is Microsoft owned operate. This leads to their second big step, but think of it as a stepping stone to compete step one.

By 2025, Microsoft will be running on 100% renewable energy. Any data center, Microsoft office, Microsoft Campus, and all of its subsidiaries will be running on solar, water, and wind power by that time. To prove this, they will be going for LEED Platinum Certificate and Living Future Institute’s Zero Carbon certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a worldwide certification program that’s ran by a non-profit coalition in the US and is ran on a point-based system that grades a building or campus on a multitude of environmental factors (like energy savings, reduction of CO2 emissions, air quality indoors, etc.). Platinum is awarded for those that score 80 or more points out of 100. You may have seen one of LEEDs plaques on buildings throughout your city. As for the Zero Carbon Certification, the International Living Future recognizes companies who meet their Zero Carbon Standard which is as follows, “ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE OPERATIONAL ENERGY USE ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROJECT MUST BE OFFSET BY NEW ON- OR OFF-SITE RENEWABLE ENERGY. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE EMBODIED CARBON EMISSIONS IMPACTS ASSOCIATED WITH THE CONSTRUCTION AND MATERIALS OF THE PROJECT MUST BE DISCLOSED AND OFFSET”. I describe these certifications in great detail just to show that it’s not easy for any company to achieve these goals. But, a Carbon Negative goal will definitely help. So what is Microsoft’s long-term goal with their plan?

Step 2: By 2050, Microsoft will remove all historical carbon from the atmosphere, and that includes all direct (scope 1), indirect (scope 2, like the heat and electricity used by a business), and Scope 3 emissions. In other words, by 2050, any carbon that was directly or indirectly produced by Microsoft and its subsidiaries, supply chains, and consumers since 1975, will be taken out of the atmosphere. That is over 1 billion emissions (exact unit not specified) they promise to clean up. This is where that $1 billion commitment I mentioned earlier comes into play. That $1 billion is being put into a Climate Change Innovation fund that will be used solely to invest in new research and development of tools to reduce, capture, and remove carbon from the atmosphere and other sources it may be captured in across the globe. And that “Carbon Tax”? All future proceeds starting last Friday would go back into the Innovation Fund. All of these innovations and plans are based on their principled approach which includes, “grounding in science and math”, “investing for new carbon reduction and removal technology”, “empowering the consumers around the world” (more on this next), and “ensuring effective transparency”.

So how does this tie into the gaming industry? Well, they mentioned their customers, they made a clear point to include customers who use their Azure servers. Lots of games next generation will be assisted with Azure technology (like my number 1 anticipated game of next year, Microsoft Flight Simulator) to run their games better. Project xCloud will also be using Azure technology. Also, remember the Sony deal with Microsoft from last year for Sony to use Azure servers for unannounced projects? This isn’t just with Microsoft; that Scope 3 includes all of us gamers, Sony, and maybe even Nintendo if they hop on the Azure train to improve their own infrastructure. Microsoft also made a point to implore every customer to reduce their emissions, even companies. Part of that Innovation Fund will be used to have a special division of Microsoft work companies who use their products (including Azure servers) and reduce their carbon output. During the conference, they released a new tool called the “Microsoft Sustainability Calculator” that will help any customer understand their carbon impact. That “Carbon Tax” will also be applied to all scope 3 emissions caused by Microsoft. While this has no direct effects on us, I bet we will see incentives in the future for gamers to reduce carbon output. For instance, “did you turn your console off at night for a week? Great! Here’s a day of Game Pass!”. I also bet we will see Microsoft working very closely with Sony to change how they operate to reduce their carbon output. Especially if Sony decides to use Azure servers for their PlayStation products like PS Now or PS Plus. This is all good, even if it doesn’t seem like it now. But this is the innovation that the world needs to step away from the quickly approaching cliff.

Their plan is available online for free. I just hope that other multibillion-dollar companies follow Microsoft’s footsteps. I implore each and every one of you who read this article to go read Microsoft’s plan yourself or watch the press conference. I covered the basics of what was discussed, but Microsoft does a fantastic job detailing all their plans in layman terms that is easily digestible for everyone. Also, if they and their subsidiaries don’t meet these goals? You damn well believe we should hold them accountable for another empty promise and for giving us all false hope.


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