Microsoft: Digital Downloads Save Carbon and Costs

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Downloading software can save nearly 90 percent of the carbon emissions associated with physical DVD distribution, the software maker claims

Companies can cut carbon emissions and costs associated with software distribution if they make greater use of digital downloads compared to physically distributing DVDs or CDs, according to research.

In a white paper entitled Calculating Business Value and Environmental Benefit of Digital Software Distribution, consultants Accenture and environmental specialists WSP Environmental and Energy found that digital delivery of Microsoft Office could help cut carbon emissions by 88 percent.

“Framed another way, digital delivery of Office 2007 is eight times more carbon efficient than producing and shipping a DVD and its associated packaging through traditional retail distribution channels,” the white paper claims.

The report, supported by Microsoft, claims that packaging, and transport related emissions were the largest contributors to emissions.

The study claimed that carbon emissions avoided through downloads, based on 10 million unit sales of Office 2007 over one year, could be roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of 7,715 US homes or 13,008 passenger cars driven in one year.

“By making products available online via digital download, companies can choose to eliminate nearly 100 percent of the carbon emissions associated with transportation because individual customers can procure goods and services without driving to a retail store – one of the single largest carbon emissions contributors to the traditional retail distribution model,” the report stated.

But despite the importance that digital downloads could play in helping Microsoft to cut its carbon emissions, the software maker has been relatively slow at embracing the potential of other online distribution models such as software as a service (SaaS).

Commentators have claimed that Microsoft’s slow response to the emergence of hosted applications such as Google Docs are based on concerns that it could damage the companies locally-installed software sales – the mainstay of the software maker’s business.

But Microsoft has made some advances with online applications with the recent announcement of its Windows Azure cloud computing platform which some analysts claim could help the company catch-up Google’s lead in online applications and platforms.

“In the long run, what they’re doing with Azure and these online services is going to be much more interesting than anything Google can do today and that’s primarily because Microsoft has a strong foothold in the enterprise and has an understanding of what it means to be enterprise class. Google doesn’t understand that,” Enterprise Applications Consulting analyst Josh Greenbaum told eWeek.