Q&A with Microsoft's head of environmental sustainability

Darren Strange, head of environmental sustainability in the UK at Microsoft, answers questions from some of our Twitter followers.

Darren Strange, head of environmental sustainability in the UK at Microsoft, answers questions from some of our Twitter followers.

Q. Do you have any plans to build sustainability awards or criteria into reseller accreditations?

There is no point in giving out awards if you are not achieving them yourself, so we are working on achieving ISO 140001 and we are being audited by the Carbon Trust in the UK.

From an advice perspective, we are packaging up advice, and bringing together all the things we have learnt from building datacentres, for example, or on how to build a sustainable application.

In terms of investment, we have not announced this yet, but we are setting up a new BizSpark programme for green IT start-ups. The programme will provide small companies with a free development platform. We are looking into a clean tech version because we want to foster environmental consciousness. It will give recognition for developing software that is sustainable, although we have yet to work out the details.

It is an emerging area. We have only recently started to think about having a clean tech version of BizSpark, and we are considering it worldwide as well. I think the market is ready for it in the UK, although that is not the case in every country. We want to build a community specifically on clean tech entrepreneurs, give them a leg up and profile them in a very visible way.

For our supplier channel, we have a vendor code of conduct that all vendors have to follow. We are getting better at being more prescriptive about these things.

Q. Will Microsoft still be around in 2020? Or will Google and Twitter have overtaken it?

I read somewhere that the capital Microsoft holds could keep the company running for five years, paying all the staff but without selling anything. But I don't think it is going anywhere.

Q. Can IT be a driver behind a company's corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy or is it simply about mitigating the impact of CO2 emissions?

We absolutely think it can be driver in strategy. Some of it is about mitigating CO2, but it is also about rethinking the business.

By changing the way a business works, you can get rid of paper by working electronically, you can get rid of travel costs. You can use technology to help you work differently.

To convince the business of IT's place in the CSR strategy, you need to show them the numbers. We saved $93m globally last year by replacing travel to meetings with videoconferencing. It is a good opener. It is about a combination of giving people the measurable facts and tapping into something that they know in their gut is true.

The pilot approach is also effective - getting people to try things is the best way to convince them. The move to the cloud is going to help with this. It enables people to try things out without the same enormous investment up front.

Q. What is Microsoft's carbon footprint in the UK?

We do not publish that data, because if we did it would not be too difficult to work out where all our servers are, so it is commercially sensitive. We do know the UK figure, and we are tracked on it monthly. It is lower than you might think.

Are hardware companies coming under any pressure regarding the disposal of toxic computer waste?

We are looking at the whole supply chain. We agree we need to get rid of bromide flame retardants (BFRs). We have done a good job getting rid of PVC in our packaging and products, but getting rid of BFRs is harder. We are working on it this year. It is challenging because we need to find something to replace BFRs, which stop plastics from melting in high heat.

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