In a year of major changes for the company, Microsoft has reached a big environmental milestone.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company announced in a Microsoft UK blog post today that it achieved carbon neutrality in 2014. Microsoft writer Mike Anderiesz noted that the company accomplished the feat "less than two years after committing to the principle."
In recent years, large tech companies have pledged to minimize their environmental impact by investing in clean energy projects and instituting power-saving programs. Google, for instance, is a big supporter of wind energy (as is Microsoft). Apple's iCloud data center in Maiden, N.C., is powered by renewable energy.
Despite the blistering pace of Microsoft's cloud expansion—and the energy required to sustain it—the company was able to reach its goal, said Anderiesz.
The company has invested $3 billion so far to build up its global network of Azure cloud computing data centers. Last month, Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group, announced two new Azure regions in Australia, bringing the total of Azure regions to 19. Each Azure region can contain up to 600,000 servers spread across multiple data centers (up to 16), each the size of a football field.
Microsoft was nonetheless able to balance the environmental scales, said Anderiesz, by lowering energy usage across the board. "In the U.K., we have achieved around 38 percent of our energy target savings so far; for instance, by replacing boilers, air conditioning plant and upgrading lighting and building management systems at TVP [Thames Valley Park]," he said.
In addition, the company cut waste and water use, he said. Renewable energy purchases and following Tesla's lead in electric cars helped cut emissions. "Microsoft UK is the first EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] subsidiary to add electric cars and charge points at its TVP campus for employees and visitors, as well as a guaranteed car-sharing scheme for commuters," he added.
"Additionally, there was a raft of broader initiatives, such as investing in programs that reduced environmental impact across all businesses operations—from facilities and supply chain to the efficiency of our software products," continued Anderiesz.
Making it official, Microsoft noted the following in its 2014 Corporate Citizenship Report: "We met our carbon neutrality commitment through internal efficiency projects, the purchase of more than 3 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable energy (equivalent to 100 percent of our global electricity use), and a carbon offset project portfolio representing more than 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions."
Microsoft's data centers, which are critical to the company's new "cloud-first" product strategy, are also getting in on the act. "We achieved our goal that all new data centers have an average 1.125 power usage effectiveness (PUE), which is one-third less than the industry average data center PUE of 1.7," Microsoft said.