Sean Jones is Microsoft’s Chief Sustainability Officer, responsible for leading the development of sustainability solutions and ecosystems for customers and partners at Microsoft, Germany.
In his own words, he says he's helping Microsoft save the world with the heart of a grandfather and the mind of an engineer. So how does that work?
“There were two driving factors for me joining Microsoft,” Jones says.
“One is that they've really changed from an internal focus to also developing solutions for clients and helping them solve the sustainability challenges. This has become an engineering problem, so we need to take a look at the data, we need to understand the problems, the opportunities to improve sustainability at a company level and break it down — that was where the engineering came in.
“The other thing that excited me about Microsoft is the culture of real interest in sustainability, which I think really stems from foundations built by Bill and Melinda Gates.
“I think that those companies that are leaders — that are published in Sustainability Magazine — are the ones where it's about more than strategy, it's the driving force within the organisations.
At Microsoft, there's 10,000 people that form an innovative sustainability community.”
How does Microsoft incorporate sustainability principles and practices into everyday operations?
Microsoft is on a journey to become a carbon negative company by 2030, as well as waste zero and water positive and remove all historic carbon by 2050.
“If you look at Microsoft's business, most of what we're doing is building and operating hundreds of data centres all over the world, which have a significant impact on the environment and also carbon emissions,” he says.
“So when you take all of that into account, as with most companies, our scope three is the largest part of our carbon emissions — over 96%.
“Data centre power usage is at 2-3% of global electricity usage, and in the future will grow to between five and 10% of overall electricity usage, because everyone is building them and everyone needs them.”
How has Microsoft become more sustainable?
Renewable energy is at the core of Microsoft’s sustainability strategy. The company has a climate fund of over US$1bn, some of which supports power purchase agreements in excess of 13 gigawatts, across around 120 projects in over 16 different countries.
In terms of data centres specifically, Microsoft is redesigning for efficiency. Through consolidating more servers into fewer rooms, the company builds fewer data centres. In redesigning server racks, they can become more energy efficient. By utilising recycled plastics in design, virgin plastics can be prevented from needed manufacturing. Next to some data centres, Microsoft is building warehouses to repurpose server parts, leading to over 90% reuse rates.
“The biggest struggle we have is really counteracting growth,” Jones says.
“We grow as a company about 20% per year, and new product areas like artificial intelligence are extremely power intensive and there's a lot of room to make them more efficient.”
As companies grow, often so does the amount of carbon emitted. In terms of Microsoft, whilst the company develops sustainability strategy and works towards reduced emissions, the company is growing, which makes it hard to track sustainability metrics successfully and fairly.
“It's really about getting access to renewable energy that solves the problem for everybody and making sure that you're forward investing and sending signals to the market like we're doing with our power purchase agreement so that people know and can build things.”
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