Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

Summary: Microsoft is lending visionary and heart warming leadership by getting behind a lobby to cheer the UK government's plan to introduce tough new social and environmental corporate disclosure requirements. The new government took many by surprise in reintroducing plans to encourage greater corporate accountability already abandoned once by the previous government as part of its newly issued programme for government manifesto.

SHARE:

Microsoft is lending visionary and heart warming leadership by getting behind a lobby to cheer the UK government's plan to introduce tough new social and environmental corporate disclosure requirements. The new government took many by surprise in reintroducing plans to encourage greater corporate accountability already abandoned once by the previous government as part of its newly issued programme for government manifesto.

We will reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.

Microsoft recently co-signed an open letter with the influential Aldersgate Group to the government which calls into question the principle of voluntarism and demands that the government take a gloves off approach:

Voluntary initiatives have had some success in mobilising the UK’s biggest organisations to address their environmental impact more fully. However, last year’s Carbon Disclosure Project shows that only just over half of the FTSE 350 disclosed their carbon emissions. The urgency of climate change demands much more rapid progress to be made. For this reason, we welcome the government’s commitment to reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.

As it happens I think there is a fair case to be made here about the benefits of leveling the playing field and encouraging more information on sustainability impact and performance into the public domain for the benefit of society and business. As argued by Aldersgate:

The administrative costs would be minimal for those who report anyway and help those who don’t to identify significant cost savings.

Microsoft's recent evangelism on this will come as something of a pleasant surprise to Michael Muyot who wrote a blog post on Triple Pundit earlier this year critical of the company's own poor record in voluntary sustainability reporting entitled: 'Is Microsoft Going to Walk the Talk'.

As for Microsoft’s reporting, the website is filled with scenic pictures and videos of specific initiatives such as biodiesel recycling at company headquarters, but does not provide useable data on the company.

Muyot's firm, CRD Analytics provides the analytical framework for establishment of the NASDAQ Global Sustainability Index which recently eliminated not only Microsoft but also Oracle and Cisco for not walking the talk on matters green. Muyot takes the view that in order to sell transparency you must do transparency:

We are hopeful that these rather obvious conflicting forces are really an indication that tech savvy firms like Microsoft, Cisco and Oracle are instituting enterprise wide solutions to gather, measure and analyze every possible piece of environmental performance data themselves and will actually be incorporating best practices into the very DNA of their company so they show their clients how easy it is to Walk the Talk. If they do this, it will lead to a very sustainable and profitable business segment.

Hey, I'm hopeful too and many more besides will assume Microsoft's backing of tough regulation in the UK signifies a renewed corporate commitment to improving their own transparency and accountability on sustainability.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Microsoft

James Farrar

About James Farrar

James has more than 15 years of experience working on corporate sustainability issues from both the corporate and NGO campaigning perspective.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

7 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Sideshow

    If MS were really serious, they would lean down their OS to reduce energy consumption of their OS installed on hundreds of millions of computers. For example, when my son runs Vista on his notebook, the HDD seems to be busy a lot of the time, even when the computer is not being used. When he runs Ubuntu, the HDD light stays off most of the time. My gut feeling is that Windows does a LOT of background activity in order to achieve acceptable performance, which is not good from an energy conservation perspective.

    Windows has at times been described as a "hairball". Maybe this is where MS needs to focus, rather than promoting its bio-diesel sideshow.
    Economister
    • RE: Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

      @Economister Interesting point. Do you have any stats?
      jamesfarrar.1@...
      • Well.....

        @jamesfarrar.1@...

        My point goes beyond MS to include all the HW suppliers, but given certain HW, the OS and its efficiency/power management plays a major part. I cannot lay my hands on specific numbers at the present time, but a simple calculation may suffice to illustrate:

        Say the average PC consumes 150W and a 10% saving is readily achievable, ie 15W. There are about one billion PCs world wide, which would give a saving of 15 billion watts or 15GW. This equals 10-15 fairly large coal fired or nuclear generating stations.

        By extension, it takes 100 to 150 large generating stations to keep the world's PCs operating. Certainly the HW and SW community can achieve a substantial reduction in that number if they really tried. Of course, the consumer needs to be supporting such and initiative.

        MS's bio-diesel initiative really pales in comparison.
        Economister
  • RE: Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

    James,

    Thanks for this contextualization of MSFT's words v. actions. What's most interesting is the UK government's decision to exhume the OFR, which met an untimely death at the hands of then Treasurer Gordon Browne on charges of "goldplating" -- or adopting EU-based regulations that weren't relevant in the UK -- which was preposterous, given that the OFR was completely home-grown!

    Here's a link to my 2005 article on this: http://www.socialfunds.com/news/article.cgi/1882.html

    I've also written in the past that greenwash is the first step toward sustainability (ok, I copped the idea from Hunter Lovins), so from this perspective, it makes sense to welcome MSFT's advocacy for mandatory sustainability reporting, even if their own work falls short.

    Bill Baue
    Principal | The Transition Group
    Editor | The Murninghan Post
    bbaue
    • RE: Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

      Bill<br><br>Yes indeed the return of the OFR is almost worthy of its very own post. I wonder if it will see light of day this time round?<br><br>I agree wholeheartedly - we should welcome Microsoft's policy play here for it is in the interest of the commons. <br><br>I'm not sure I agree though that greenwash is ever a good option but I suppose I could see it as an OK first step as you say. In this post however, though I haven't said MS are greenwashing they certainly don't fit your chronological bill. Time was when Microsoft used to provide a very full and detailed sustainability report - now they no longer do.<br><br>Thanks for reading Bill.
      jamesfarrar.1@...
  • RE: Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

    James,

    Here's a link to my "Greenwash is Good" piece, which was intended to be provocative.

    http://www.csrwire.com/csrlive/commentary_detail/1207-Greenwash-is-Good-

    Of course I don't think that greenwash is good when it's a company that has every capacity to do otherwise. My point was that it's understandable when companies early in sustainability curve don't know what they're doing. According to your account (I must admit I haven't read MSFT's sustainability reports), Microsoft can't claim to be in this category...

    Bill
    bbaue
  • RE: Microsoft lobbies for mandatory sustainability disclosure regulation ('do as we say' or 'do as we do'?)

    Bill -- you make a good point, we need to be more grown up about these things and we need to be moving forward.
    jamesfarrar.1@...