Microsoft, The CDP and the Green IT Data Game

by Linda Chang

The days of the Apple rivalry are long gone, but when most people think of Microsoft, they still think Windows and Office. Microsoft, however, is becoming less of a personal computing software company and more of a business and networking solutions platform provider and developer. This was the picture communicated to the web audience at the 2010 Communicating Sustainability Conference by Bill Mitchel, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft.

Microsoft Environment is putting sustainability front and center of the company’s future growth. Data management is the name of the game here. If you are going to translate your intentions into real time activity, with empiricism as your guide, then you need to be able to endlessly monitor your data, network your data, and interpret your data. Mitchel showed how Microsoft has turned the question of Green IT into one of systems and platforms by looking at the really big areas of software and services development opportunities for tackling GHG emissions: buildings and smart grids. To that end, Microsoft has been busy partnering with companies, non-profit organizations, including research universities, to develop integrated data management tools and networks.

Mitchel highlighted Microsoft’s work with The Carbon Disclosure Project in trying to create “the De Facto Global Climate Change Data and Reporting Platform.” Other major corporate partners in this include Accenture, SAP, Price Waterhouse, Bank of America, and CCX. The work is further overseen by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), an international NGO that evolved from the 2007 World Economic Forum.

Earlier comments in the Communitelligence conference presentations alluded to the difficulty of discerning authenticity and accuracy while walking the path towards sustainability. We need reliable metrics. The confusion and frustration around shaping those metrics and tackling the legal or investing incentives to hold organizations accountable has engendered much cynicism.

Data management brings another dimension into this messy scenario. If the private sector is shaping the needed and very sophisticated tools to self-monitor in this fashion, then where are the firewalls? Do we need them? Is the nature of the problem naturally giving way to new relationships that our former notions of ethical conflicts of interest may need to be suspended?

Indeed, these types of alliances are nothing new, really. Professional groups have long organized into self-interested collectives (think craftsman guilds or the American Medical Association) to determine the standards that would define the mechanisms of their businesses. Governments have provided the necessary executive impetus for industrial reorganizations. The Carbon Disclosure Project receives 30% of its funding from corporate sponsorships. They have created something they call the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index to help match investment tracking to the performance of S&P 500 companies in energy efficiency. Dow Chemical was recently named to this list of honorees.

Meanwhile, the EPA announced that it would be ending its Climate Leaders program, which has been the globally recognized reporting framework until now. What will take it’s place?

ed note: We’re placing our bets on the GRI, the oldest and fastest growing sustainability reporting initiative worldwide. As it happens our upcoming certification would be perfect for Microsoft execs or any other CSR professionals in the Seattle area. Contact us to get more info on corporate packages!

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