Microsoft’s Director of Environmental Sustainability Talks Green Initiatives, Copenhagen Summit

In the past, Microsoft has had a reputation for being slow moving in the areas of green technology and energy-saving innovation. However, in the last two years, the corporation seems to have turned the tide, stepping up to the sustainability plate and implementing a number of company-wide green initiatives.

First, it hired Rob Bernard as chief environmental strategist, a position created specifically for him. It began integrating power management capabilities into its products—the latest release of Windows 7 and Microsoft Hohm include new energy tracking and management features. Partnerships were formed with the Clinton Foundation, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and the European Environmental Agency. And, most recently, Microsoft sent a 12-person delegation, led by Bernard, to the COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Microsoft’s director of environmental sustainability, Francois Ajenstat, has been with the company for nine years, working in various groups including Office and SQL Server. He moved to sustainability, a personal passion of his, 18 months ago. His job includes everything from working with product teams to reduce the harmful environmental impact of their customers to talking with governments and NGOs around the world about climate change, and working on Microsoft’s own commitment to going green.

On the last day of the conference, Friday, I spoke with Ajenstat about how the company was received in Copenhagen and what its current environmental strategy entails.

“A lot of people join Microsoft to change the world,” he said. “This is clearly an opportunity where I could go in and have a significant impact on the world by also helping change the company.”

Here are a few edited highlights from our conversation:

Xconomy: Microsoft has recently put much more emphasis on sustainable technology. Why now?

Francois Ajenstat: The way that I describe how things were originally is we had a lot of what I call “well intentioned chaos”—a lot different people within the company doing great work, but not necessarily a line to a broader vision or broader strategy. Sustainability has moved to the forefront of everybody’s minds, both in terms of our customers asking Microsoft how we can help, government talking to Microsoft, our employees looking for what the company was doing, shareholders. It was almost more of a whole mountain of requests coming from all directions. What we wanted to do was have a thoughtful approach that made sense based on what society needs and also based on the real capabilities that Microsoft can bring to the table.

X: What are the key components of Microsoft’s environmental strategy?

FA: There are really three parts to the strategy. The first one is to use IT to improve energy efficiency. The second is to accelerate research breakthroughs. And the third is about responsible environmental leadership. A number of different studies have shown that the IT industry represents about 2 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that are emitted. And you might say that 2 percent is … Next Page »

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6 responses to “Microsoft’s Director of Environmental Sustainability Talks Green Initiatives, Copenhagen Summit”

  1. Reading this article, I decided Microsoft couldn’t be this vague and unresponsive on the topic. Platitudes, airy expressions of support and great goals are not the information we need. Fortunately, there’s more to be found on the MS site that appears substantive although I would like to see reporting with a standardized framework like GRI that delivers more than what the PR/Marketing department massages.

    Reporters, please do your job. Dig for specifics. What products? What tools? Results from what actions?

    The world needs good success stories. Information on what can be done and how. Now.

  2. Lisa, thanks for your comment. It’s still pretty early for Microsoft in this space. The point of this story was to introduce you to one of the company’s leaders in sustainability and talk about his high-level goals. We can drill down in a future piece, but for now the story points to a few specific partnerships and a goal of 30 percent carbon reduction by 2012.


  3. Don Carli says:

    I agree with Lisa’s comment that there is a need for more technical detail about specific software solutions as well as application case studies for the measurement, analysis, reduction and reporting of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Also a detailed discussion about the development and adoption of standards that will enable the effective use of these applications on a global scale.

    Also, notably absent from Microsoft’s sustainability strategy is how its solutions might be applied to improve the effectiveness of the UNFCC negotiation process and the interaction among and between the parties, NGO observers and the press.

    COP16 in Mexico City is but months away and the world will require a far more effective meeting of the minds than it got in Copenhagen.

    Tools and methods for the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions are important, as are efforts to reduce the energy consumed by IT and Data Centers, however, what is needed most is the development and adoption of more effective tools and methods for communication and visualization of stakeholder issues and positions, conflict resolution, content management, version control, collaboration and decision support by the UNFCCC.

    I look forward to speaking with thought leaders in the fields of experience design and media and communication technology who are interested in presenting the UNFCCC with proposals.

    Don Carli
    Senior Research Fellow
    The Institute for Sustainable Communication
    Twitter: @dcarli


    Executive Vice President
    SustainCommWorld LLC

  4. steve says:

    I agree with Lisa and Don, that Microsoft shouldn’t be this vague and unresponsive..
    “Platitudes, airy expressions of support and great goals are not the information we need.”
    I am a environment scientist, but speciliazed in corporate sustainability, … a scientific viewpoint is useful.