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Microsoft Pitches AI to Accelerate Sustainability Solution Developments, Deployments

November 21, 2023 by Joe Panettieri

Microsoft has developed an AI sustainability playbook to help partners and customers accelerate the development and deployment of sustainability solutions.

Melanie Nakagawa, chief sustainability officer, Microsoft
Melanie Nakagawa, chief sustainability officer, Microsoft

The playbook surfaces at a key time. Critics worry that some AI applications may require more energy than traditional applications. Indeed, AI could consume up to 3.5% of the world’s electricity by 2030, Gartner predicts. In terms of current projects, 73% of IT buyers are not completely prepared for the energy requirements of AI, research from Pure Storage and Wakefield Research finds. 

In contrast, Microsoft sees AI as "a vital tool to help accelerate the deployment of existing sustainability solutions and the development of new ones – faster, cheaper, and better," according to a blog from Microsoft's Brad Smith, vice chair and president; and Melanie Nakagawa, chief sustainability officer.

Indeed, the software company says AI applications are ideally suited to:

  1. Measure, predict, and optimize complex systems.
  2. Accelerate the development of sustainability solutions.
  3. Empower the sustainability workforce.
Brad Smith, president, Microsoft
Brad Smith, president, Microsoft

With that context in mind, Microsoft's AI and sustainability playbook is a white paper that helps partners and customers to:

  1. Invest in AI to accelerate sustainability solutions
  2. Develop digital and data infrastructure for the inclusive use of AI for sustainability
  3. Minimize resource use in AI operations
  4. Advance AI policy principles and governance for sustainability
  5. Build workforce capacity to use AI for sustainability

In similar messaging, Microsoft believes AI can be a "powerful accelerant in addressing climate crisis," CEO Satya Nadella wrote in his annual letter to Microsoft shareholders.

AI Applications: Energy Consumption and Data Center Energy Transitions

Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

Still, Microsoft also realizes that it must manage AI's energy consumption while shifting Azure cloud services and data centers to renewable energy. Among the efforts to note:

  • DanfossGoogle, Microsoft and Schneider Electric launched the Net Zero Innovation Hub For Data Centers. The hub, based in Fredericia, Denmark, will "bring together the data center sector across Europe to find concrete solutions to accelerate the green transition," the founders said.
  • Microsoft and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced digital sustainability guidelines to "accelerate education and awareness among businesses and developers, as they build sustainable applications by design." The guidelines were created with support from the Green Software Foundation (GSF).

In terms of the bigger picture, Microsoft expects to be carbon negative by 2030, according to the company's overall sustainability strategy.

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