Posted by John Vassallo
Vice President, EU Affairs
This week I have been lucky to be one of a handful of business executives speaking at the European Union’s Green Week conference in Brussels. A recurring theme among all attendees, whether from business, politics, science or non-governmental organizations, has been that technology has a major role to play in solving vexing environmental problems such as climate change.
Information technology will be one of the principal enablers of environmental innovations, and Microsoft is devoting a lot of time, hard work and investment to advancing green technologies. We are increasing our R&D spending by over 15 percent this year, to $9.4 billion, including spending on several promising environmental applications.
I took part in Green Week previously when I worked for GE, which produces equipment used in several environmental sectors, from water desalination to vehicle fleet management systems. I was not fully aware at the time how much of the equipment actually was made up of software and information technology (IT) systems. It is the IT embedded in products that enables much of the energy savings, emissions reductions and carbon capture that society and the environment need.
Improving and expanding environmentally-friendly IT in devices commonly used by average citizens will help us change attitudes and lifestyle. The applications could range from intelligent cars and household appliances, to smart utility grids or simple improvements to PCs. They could range in sophistication from small apps to computer-modeled, macro systems that measure the carbon footprint of entire cities or predict the water quality at European beaches.
We are at the start of a journey. It begins with our own homes and setting personal targets for reducing energy, recycling and increasing efficiency. That is why Microsoft earlier this week announced Microsoft Hohm, a new online application that enables consumers to better understand their energy usage, get recommendations and start saving money.
Inside Microsoft, we are striving to raise the environmental awareness of our 90,000 employees and to operate in a more eco-friendly manner. But we are not alone. All around us small and mid-sized businesses are developing their own green initiatives and developing green solutions for their customers. This type of widespread activity is what the green revolution looks like, and it may help take the EU out of recession.
Manufacturers of environmental goods and developers of applied eco-software have the potential to become some of Europe’s strongest businesses, especially if we achieve a global agreement on climate change in Copenhagen later this year that energizes the field. Yet these businesses can only keep growing if a steady stream of inventions continues to invigorate the market, and this stream will only keep flowing if inventors have the right support. Among the most important supports that Europe can provide to the growing field of green technology are economic rewards for intellectual agility and creativity, development of clustered centers of excellence across Europe, stronger investment in education and skills programs and political advocacy on behalf of the budding industry.