Microsoft vows to become a 'zero-waste' business by 2030

Microsoft has pledged to bring its direct waste footprint to zero within a decade, as part of a new resources strategy which will boost the recyclability of its devices and see plastic packaging phased out entirely.

Microsoft seems to be reshaping its sustainability strategy a little at a time, having set new climate targets earlier this year

Microsoft seems to be reshaping its sustainability strategy a little at a time, having set new climate targets earlier this year

The 2030 zero-waste goal covers Microsoft’s direct operations, products and packaging. Across these areas, the tech giant will “reduce nearly as much waste as it generates” through reuse, repurposing and recycling initiatives, before offsetting the residual waste through investment in external circular economy initiatives.

Some 90% of the materials that are currently wasted from Microsoft’s direct operations will be diverted from landfill and incineration within a decade, the company said in a statement. It will install ‘Circular Centres’ – facilities which use machine learning to process decommissioned servers and hardware - at its data centres and R&D and office campuses to achieve this aim.

A trial of a ‘Circular Centre’ at Microsoft’s Amsterdam data centre proved successful, reducing downtime, increasing server and network part availability and lowering the costs and emissions associated with logistics. Such facilities will be installed at Microsoft’s new data centres in the first instance, before being rolled out to older facilities.

As for products and packaging, Microsoft’s new strategy includes commitments to remove all plastic components from its packaging by 2025 and to ensure all remaining packaging is 100% recyclable within the same timeframe; and to ensure that all Surface devices are fully recyclable within a decade.

In order to help accelerate the creation of the infrastructure and business models needed to meet its targets, Microsoft is investing $30m (£22.9m) through Closed Loop Partners – a US-based investment firm that only finances organisations with products, services and systems which are proven to close the loop on resources. Microsoft has chosen to focus the bulk of the funding on packaging and e-waste, but a portion of the funding will be used to further resource management outside of Microsoft’s industries – for example, closing the loop on food waste.

“Zero waste is an ambitious goal, but minimizing our own waste footprint is essential to preserving the natural resources and reducing waste-associated carbon emissions to ensure our economies and societies around the world thrive for generations to come,” Microsoft’s president Brad Smith said.

“No one person or organization can solve the global waste problem. It will take all of us doing our part, including using better data to understand the problem and make smart waste policy decisions.”

Other technology firms to have set new resources targets in recent months include Apple and HP

Sustainability shake-up

The announcement from Microsoft builds on its commitment to become ‘carbon-negative’ by 2030, announced earlier this year.

The goal will see Microsoft reduce its emissions by more than 50% across its entire business and supply chain by 2030 while investing to remove more carbon than it emits annually. Microsoft has been offsetting its emissions to reach net-zero since 2012 and claimed that the new target is evidence of its belief that this approach is no longer sufficient to tackle the climate crisis.

July saw Microsoft’s chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa providing the firm’s first update on how it plans to meet the new target, including an ambition to remove one million metric tonnes of carbon from the environment by the end of the 2020 fiscal year on 1 October.

Sarah George



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