When childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft in 1975, they couldn’t have imagined that their computer software would be used across the world to help businesses as they worked from home on Microsoft Teams.
“This is the thing that in the post-pandemic world, we have all learned to adapt,” said Elisabeth Brinton, Microsoft’s new Corporate Vice President of Sustainability.
Handling the COVID-19 pandemic has not eclipsed sustainable transformation at Microsoft. The company is working with organisations like Unilever, Ecolab, Bayer and Grupo Bimbo, to help them achieve their green goals. One feature, Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability was generally available on 1st June and offers integrated capabilities that allow manufacturers to gain the transparency and insights they need to embed sustainability throughout their value chain. Brinton took on the global role in February.
“I think it’s the best job on the planet,” she says. “It’s a huge opportunity to take the incredible platform of all of Microsoft technology and figure out how we best put that together for solutions for our customers.
“Then the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, it’s a big umbrella of a programme from a technical perspective. It was built on Azure and takes full advantage of the enterprise cloud, the security, scalability, all the things that you need and customers trust.”
Within that Cloud for Sustainability, Microsoft is able to provide fit-for-purpose capabilities and build an ecosystem with its partners. For example, in the manufacturing industrial space, ABB is a great partner.
“In manufacturing, if you think about edge IoT, smart IoT, smart factories and so forth, all of that sensorised data that comes from understanding the telemetry of a particular plant operating rhythm and all the different machines that are involved that give you a read, that type of granular data then would come up into the Data Lake of our Cloud for Sustainability, which in turn then can be matched with financial and planning data from Excel,” explains Brinton.
Once customers have a clear baseline for their emissions, they can report on it.
Microsoft’s technology can serve a sustainable purpose
Brinton’s background started in Silicon Valley as a tech entrepreneur in software. But she was soon moved in a sustainable direction.
“I really had a personal mission where I thought - we have this incredible opportunity and privilege to apply technology in how we solve practical environmental needs,” she said. “I recognised the fact that technology can be an important solution for air quality. In the earlier days, the discussions that we would now call sustainability or climate were focused on how we can improve air quality or water quality. Now these things have come together.”
Brinton previously worked at Shell, where she ran new energies, renewables and energy solutions.
Microsoft’s technological advancements helping manufacturers to meet sustainability goals
One of the things that is most important to Brinton is to bust the myth that sustainability is more expensive.
“Sustainability is not a bad thing for business. The sensors on the plant floor that are going to tell you your machines are operating safely and with efficiency, are the same sensors that will provide the data for the sustainability actions. The thing that’s really cool is that this is an ecosystem effect at the granular level in manufacturing or in any business for that matter. You just have different tools.”
From a Microsoft perspective, Brinton is bringing its partners together with Edge IoT who can provide the specific solutions to a particular type of industry in an ecosystem for the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability.
“The Microsoft Sustainability Manager is a SaaS tool that can provide a baseline record for all of a manufacturer's emissions.”
Microsoft has an array of partners, including ABB and Honeywell.
“These are fantastic companies that we partner with across manufacturing and sustainability,” said Brinton. “They have very deep tools which address particular aspects of a manufacturing process, whether it’s machine type specific, factory floor type specific, or asset type specific. What’s great about what we’re doing with Cloud for Sustainability is we’re not competing with those partners. We’re providing the big data architecture, the big scalability on top of Azure. We’re providing data privacy and cybersecurity, all of those things which are built into our Azure Stack.”
What Microsoft is helping to solve is the data science challenge, being able to make sure that those very different types of datasets can be read. Automated connectors are on hand so that human hands don’t have to touch the data, which can be accelerated for the customer.
“Essentially Microsoft is making data trustworthy. It’s accurate, automated and understandable. We’re bringing it together at the enterprise level. Many countries already have a legal requirement that public companies have to report on their emissions, and that’s just going to become more and more of a factor. This has the same rigour and auditable assurance as financial results.”