Microsoft Says Talent Shortage Hampers Climate Change Fight

Green keyboard energy © pryzmat Shutterstock

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President, predicts thousands of businesses will fail to meet climate change pledges over lack of staff training

Corporate responsibilities towards sustainability and climate changes have been thrust back into the headlines by a senior Microsoft executive.

Microsoft President Brad Smith told Reuters that thousands of businesses will fail to meet pledges to combat climate change unless they start training employees on sustainability.

The software giant has long been champion of green IT and sustainability. Indeed, former CEO and co-founder Bill Gates this time last year told attendees of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow that he doubted the world can hit goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Skills needed

Gates back in November 2021 also highly praised the UK for its environmental efforts, saying “the UK gets a very good grade on climate progress.”

Gates had previously praised the UK, when he was asked to name a country practising good environmental policies. He pointed specifically to the UK’s efforts on offshore wind farming, for its power production.

And Gates is recognised as being an expert on environment and global warming matters.

In 2015 for example, as part of his ongoing philanthropic work, he unveiled a machine that turns human waste into drinkable water and free electricity for developing countries.

Gates has also famously backed a CO2 venture that sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Indeed, the venture’s carbon capture plant in Canada he helped fund does the work of 40 million trees.

Now a year later, Microsoft’s Brad Smith told Reuters ahead of a report it released Wednesday, that common instruction on issues like carbon accounting was too piecemeal for the roughly 3,900 companies that have vowed to cut their CO2 emissions.

“We have to move very quickly to start to bring our emissions down, and the ultimate bottleneck is the supply of skilled people,” he reportedly said.

Microsoft sells software for organisations to track their environmental impact. Still, companies need more than technology to address global warming, said Smith, announcing plans to develop green education materials including on Microsoft’s social network, LinkedIn.

According to Reuters, Wednesday’s study, by Microsoft and Boston Consulting Group, found that many corporate environmental leaders – 68 percent – were internal hires whose team members lacked sustainability-related degrees more often than not.

The findings primarily stemmed from interviews and surveys with Microsoft and eight other large companies in sectors such as finance and consumer goods.

It took one Microsoft employee, for instance, more than 30 years at the company moving through customer-support, procurement and other roles before a promotion to lead part of its sustainability team – a time horizon the report contrasted with an expected 11 years before humanity will have released a dire amount of carbon dioxide.

While Microsoft itself has grown its sustainability headcount to about 250 employees from only 30 largely in the past three years, having the right workforce to deliver on its carbon-reduction goals remains a challenge, Smith reportedly said.

“That is in part an issue for us because it’s an issue for everybody,” he said. “Employers really need to step back and take a broader look at their investment in employee learning and training.”

Companies should bring in instructors, pay for continuing education and convene on carbon-reduction strategies, he reportedly said.

Carbon Negative

Back in 2020, Microsoft made a tough environmental pledge when it promised to remove “all of the carbon” from the environment that it emitted ever since Redmond was founded back in 1975.

Satya Nadella stated at the time that 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 neutral means 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.

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 in 2020 created a $1 billion ‘climate innovation fund’ to help in this matter.