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Microsoft Executive VP Judson Althoff Touts AI for Customers' Sustainability Goals

January 18, 2024 by Joe Panettieri

At first glance, most of the headlines at Microsoft these days involve generative AI, the OpenAI investment and the AI companion known as Microsoft Copilot.

But if you look and listen a bit more closely, you'll also see and hear how Microsoft is connecting the dots between artificial intelligence and sustainability. The latest example involves a Microsoft-Vodafone partnership that will bring generative AI, digital services, cloud services and sustainability opportunities to more than 300 million businesses and consumers.

Describing the 10-year, $1.5 billion deal to Reuters, Microsoft Executive VP and Chief Commercial Officer Judson Althoff (pictured, top of page) explained how Microsoft and Vodafone will link AI, cloud, digital twin and IoT services to help customers pursue their sustainability goals.

Indeed, Althoff told Reuters: "The IoT assets are critical in helping us address the sustainability needs of so many of our customers in hard-to-abate sectors. Vodafone's IoT stack allows us to go into those environments, model the environment, create large-scale data stores, and use AI to help customers meet their sustainability goals."

AI, Cloud Applications, Energy Consumption and Sustainability

This was far more than a one-time sustainability soundbite. Microsoft launched an AI sustainability playbook in November 2023 to help partners and customers accelerate the development and deployment of sustainability solutions.

The playbook surfaced at a key time. Critics worry that some AI applications may require more energy than traditional applications. At the Davos 2024 conference in Switzerland, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in January 2024 said the world needs an energy breakthrough to fully power the future of AI.

Anecdotal evidence supports Altman's claim. 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.

Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability: Where AI Fits In

Microsoft's Melanie Nakagawa, Satish Thomas and Shelly Blackburn

Fast forward to February 13, 2024, and Althoff is scheduled to present during a Microsoft AI for Sustainability virtual event. The conversation will include such experts as:

Customers are expected to present during the event as well. It's a safe bet some of the conversation will include Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability -- which involves a growing set of tools and capabilities from the company and its partners.

Microsoft's Overall Sustainability Strategy and Net Zero Goals

Microsoft's ongoing sustainability push to customers and partners certainly isn't new. The company in 2020 said that it expects to be carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050 the company will remove from the environment all the carbon the firm has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.

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