Microsoft has made a tough environmental pledge after it promised to remove “all of the carbon” from the environment that it emitted ever since Redmond was founded back in 1975.

Chief executive officer Satya Nadella has stated he wanted to achieve the ambitious goal by 2050.

A carbon negative pledge is different from a carbon neutral pledge. Back in 2012, Microsoft said it would be carbon neutral across all its direct operations by July 2013.

Carbon negative

Carbon neutral is adding no carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Companies can do this by offsetting their emissions (planting trees or other projects that reduce emissions elsewhere in the world), or by balancing emissions (removing a unit of emissions for every unit of emission produced).

Or firms can not release greenhouse gases in the first place by switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power for example.

Being carbon neutral is the goal most firms set themselves nowadays.

But Microsoft has opted to set itself an even tougher goal by aiming to be carbon negative by 2050.

So what does this mean in practice?

Well, to be carbon negative, a company must actually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. Redmond said it will do this using a range of carbon capture and storage technologies.

Microsoft opened up about its pledges in a blog post by President Brad Smith, in which he revealed the creation of a $1 billion ‘climate innovation fund’.

“The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world’s climate,” wrote Smith. “If we don’t curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic.”

“While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so,” said Smith. “That’s why today we are announcing an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft’s carbon footprint.”

“By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975,” said Smith.

Smith said that Microsoft has set itself an aggressive program to cut its carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, both for its direct emissions and for its entire supply and value chain.

“We will fund this in part by expanding our internal carbon fee, in place since 2012 and increased last year, to start charging not only our direct emissions, but those from our supply and value chains,” he wrote.

Climate fund

And Microsoft also announced a new $1 billion (£765m) ‘climate innovation fund’ which will “accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.”

Redmond said that from next year, it will make carbon reduction an explicit aspect of it procurement processes for its supply chain.

Microsoft pledged to publish its progress in a new annual Environmental Sustainability Report.

And Microsoft’s tough carbon goal has been welcomed by sustainability experts.

“Microsoft’s carbon negative strategy, as well as a similar recent announcement late last year from Ikea, demonstrates the continuing trend of large corporations seeking to make a step change impact on climate,” noted Mathias Lelievre, CEO at sustainability consultant, ENGIE Impact.

“Companies are increasingly embracing the notion of sustainability transformation, but the challenge of achieving carbon reduction targets is highly complex – that’s why according to ENGIE Impact analysis, only 25 percent of companies are on pace to achieve their commitments,” said Lelievre.

“With a carbon negative strategy, even more radical sustainability transformation is required that touches every part of companies’ business and ecosystem,” he said. “For example, Microsoft is investing $1 billion to fund research and development to bring new technologies to the market, while Ikea and others are helping facilitate the consumer adoption of green power through its value chain.”

“While still wildly important, these types of activities expand well beyond making buildings more efficient, setting targets for suppliers and procuring renewable energy for company operations,” concluded Lelievre.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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