Power of Information

Regardless of what skeptics are saying, the evidence of climate change becomes more real every day. So it is more critical than ever that we improve our understanding of what we can do to slow or even prevent climate change.  With the world’s population expected to hit 9 billion people by 2040, all of us need to better understand our impact on the planet. 

In order to understand, we need to have better information and better ways to visualize that information. With Earth Day 2010 upon us, I’d like to shed some light on some of the work Microsoft is doing to help organizations and individuals understand and share environmental information and the potential impact this work can have on the world we live.   

One of the fundamental challenges of today’s environmental movement is that making sense of the massive amounts of data is a complex and daunting challenge.  Should I feel good or bad about my carbon impact?    Is the city I live in a “clean” city or is the air and water polluted?  In order to answer these types of questions, people need context and consistent ways to compare information.

For corporations, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) collects data from more than 2,500 companies in over 60 countries. Its goal is to establish benchmarks for corporate carbon output.  As CDP grew from a small non-profit to a significant global standard for corporate carbon information, they faced a challenge around how to gather, catalogue and compare information in a meaningful and consistent way.  Microsoft helped the CDP design and build a new application to enable companies to move toward a more cohesive, universal, easy-to-use reporting set of tools and services. In addition, the system was designed so CDP could expand beyond tracking carbon to address water and other issues.

Another project we embarked on this past year was on the Eye On Earth Global Observatory, with the European Environment Agency (EEA).  Eye on Earth gives more than 500 million European citizens the ability to visualize water and air pollution in their communities on a nearly hourly basis using data received from monitoring stations across Europe.    We see a transformative opportunity in moving from a world where data is buried in spreadsheets and databases to a world where millions of people can see information about their communities in real time. Our Windows Azure cloud technology, through projects like Eye on Earth, helps millions of Europeans not only consume environmental information but also provide a way for citizens to provide feedback and input on the environmental conditions they witness. 

And for those who want to know what to do in their own homes to make a difference, Microsoft Hohm, a free online application that we launched this past year, helps consumers better understand their home energy use. Hohm provides customized recommendations to reduce their home’s energy use and ultimately their impact on the environment.   By providing a simple to use online service, we can help homeowners make the intelligent choices that will save energy, reduce their environmental impact and save money.  

I urge you to use Earth Day as an opportunity to learn more about your corporate and personal impact and seek out information on your home and your community.  Giving people the power of information to take action and make changes in their lives is an important step to reduce our collective environmental impact, but that information is really powerful only if people use it to drive changes in the way we use the world’s resources. We hope that the investments Microsoft and its partners are making in this area will help drive better use of information and technology to support our collective goal of being more sustainable.

Please send us your thoughts or feedback on the work we are doing and suggestions for projects that you think can help make a difference to rbernard@microsoft.com. Also visit our Microsoft News Center Virtual Press Kit to read more about Microsoft’s environmental work.

Posted by Rob Bernard

Chief Environmental Strategist

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