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Microsoft’s Previous Commitments On Emissions Took a Back Seat to AI

They swear all the second-hand carbon emissions from all the data centers they’ve built and will build between now and 2030 will be zero emissions, but the first few years of that promise have not exactly gone to plan:

Microsoft’s indirect emissions from building lots of datacenters went way up since 2020

Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote that the company’s direct operational emissions, which it labels as Scope 1 and Scope 2, did go down by 6.3 percent in its fiscal 2023 year compared to the 2020 baseline.

However, that reduction was offset by a huge increase in indirect emissions, known as Scope 3. They increased by a whopping 30.9 percent in its fiscal 2023 year compared to the 2020 baseline. Smith wrote that combining the direct and indirect emissions generative by Microsoft resulted in an increase of 29.1 percent in FY2023 compared to 2020.

He talks about requiring these partner sites to use zero-carbon electricity and require no water for cooling by 2030, but that’s only six years away. Do we believe that will somehow happen? Do we believe Microsoft would do anything different with the investment in AI, even if that meant not meeting these commitments?

I doubt it. We’ve watched these companies jettison tens of thousands of employees to chase stock price increases and race to invest trillions of dollars in technologies that we still don’t know will make a return on all of that investment. Taking a moment to consider environmental sustainability isn’t in their DNA.

In 2020, Microsoft promised to be at negative carbon emissions as a company in ten years. Instead, they have increased emissions by almost 30% since then. They promise they’ll be there in 2030, but that seems like wishful thinking.

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