In 2008, Forum for the Future and Clean Air-Cool Planet released Getting to Zero: Defining Corporate Carbon Neutrality.
It created a bit of a buzz when released – it even got described as ‘nothing less than Gospel to those who have been grappling with such issues’ by Joel Makower.
But then neutrality seemed to lose its fizz, and inquiries about the report pretty much dried up. Maybe our challenge that achieving neutrality should be a dynamic, ongoing process (rather than a one-off exercise in offsetting) scared companies away. Or, more likely, companies started to look elsewhere to demonstrate leadership on climate change.
At least they did. But then Microsoft announced earlier this month that, “Beginning in fiscal year 2013… [It] will be carbon neutral across all our direct operations including data centers, software development labs, air travel, and office buildings.”
And rumours of other impending pledges are now circulating on twitter.
Microsoft’s emphasis on its direct operations is not particularly ambitious (although the inclusion of data centres is both good to see, and utterly essential to the credibility of the claim) and there’s still too much emphasis on offsetting – rather than innovation – as the means to achieve neutrality for my liking. But what’s really interesting is the company’s stated aim to “Make Carbon Neutrality Everyone’s Responsibility”.
For too many companies, offsetting is a passive transaction. Someone, elsewhere in the business writes the cheque, and that’s it. But the cost of offsetting should serve as an incentive for internal reductions over time (as an organisation that manages to reduce its internal emissions no longer has to spend money on offsetting) – and by making every business unit responsible for the carbon they generate, and the cost of offsetting it, Microsoft will hopefully achieve just that.
I still think that neutrality works best as an aspiration, rather than as a claim (and I refer you to our surprisingly readable report for the reasons why!) But it’s great to see it back among the mix – and to see companies such as Microsoft experimenting with new ways of moving towards it.