A window into Microsoft's quest to become 'carbon neutral'

One of the keys to the success of the whole project is “the governance model,” as Bernard puts it. “It’s creating another level of focus on efficiency and carbon.”

“You can imagine that we have a rather large ERP [enterprise resource planning] system, which is not uncommon in most organizations,” Bernard explained. “And our ERP system can be modified to deal with this. So, you get a bill. You’re already paying your energy bill, but now you’re paying your energy bill plus carbon. You pay for airline tickets, and now there’s a fee that cascades out of that. That all gets paid into a central fund, which we use to offset the carbon that you’ve created locally. Part of the goal is, we want you to be motivated to keep that fee as low as possible.”

The IT backbone and its near-real-time data will help Microsoft’s far-flung operations identify opportunities for efficiency measures. “You may not be aware that employee travel is going up, or that compared to other similar offices around the world you are going out of the statistical norm. Or that the compressor [in a building’s HVAC system] is out of compliance. You may not be looking at the dashboard all the time but the system will and will alert you. So the governance model will start to change how you operate and how you think about efficiencies.”

One of the challenges of being so large and geographically dispersed, says Bernard, is, “There are people doing really interesting and innovative stuff, but the systems aren’t necessarily robust enough so that, if you’re in Country A and I’m in Country B, we won’t necessarily have visibility into what each of us doing. By creating centralized ways to do that, we can better share those successes and tactics more effectively.”

I asked Bernard to confess his greatest concerns about this project — “What keeps you up at night?” He replied: “That the velocity will be quick but won't be quick enough.” Another, almost paradoxical, concern: that his small team is overwhelmed with the demands for information and services from business units and operations seeking to implement efficiency measures and, therefore, lower their carbon fees. “Once people realize that this service is available, the good news/bad news for my team is that it’s going to create opportunities for service, but will we be able to keep up with that demand?”

Either way, Bernard is excited to move forward, and equally excited to share the company’s learnings, both good and bad. “We might get it right, we might get it wrong, but either way we’re going to share what we’re doing. We’ll share the processes and codes. Part of the process is being transparent about the learning and the mistakes — and hopefully the successes.”

Image CC-licensed by Flickr user Robert Scoble.