As I noted in my post about Reggie Watts' videos for a greener cloud, Microsoft has just taken a major step toward cleaning up its act. For once, this isn't about simply installing solar panels or cutting factory waste.
It's about standing up and being counted.
From imposing a carbon price on itself to purchasing the output of entire wind farms or running data centers on biogas, the computing giant was clearly already intent on joining the circle of industry leaders when it comes to sustainability.But the company's recent decision to sever ties with conservative lobbying group ALEC, reportedly because of the organization's anti-renewables efforts, may be one of Microsoft's most significant decisions yet, and one that other corporations could learn a thing or two from.
While corporations from all industry sectors have, in recent years, made substantial and significant investments in renewables and other clean energy, they have sometimes been less willing to take a stand on policy issues related to curbing climate change. Yet given the staggering amounts of lobbying that have gone on to both establish and sustain the fossil fuel-dependent energy system we rely on today, it's reasonable to assume that any real effort to break that status quo will require not just investment in and support for technological innovation, it will also require leaders to step up and push for system-wide change. This isn't a naive plea for corporate altruism either. As more and more businesses—big and small—align themselves with the post-fossil fuel economy, they will find that their business interests are no longer served by a system that props up artificially cheap fossil fuels.
With the world's largest investors urging action on climate change, there are promising signs that such pressure may be mounting. Indeed a coalition of corporations including GM, Mars, Bloomberg, HP and Walmart—many of which have already been buying renewables—recently called on utilities and policy makers to make it easier to buy green energy including, importantly, a plea for better price mechanisms to reflect the true cost of energy. (Carbon tax, anyone?)
It's no longer enough for true leaders to do green things, they have to talk about them too—and raise their voice as they do so.