Nov 2, 2022 - Technology

Microsoft sees urgent need for more workers with climate skills

Photo collage of Brad smith and an image of data

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: By Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

Although nearly 4,000 companies have made pledges to reduce their emissions, many lack the skilled workers needed to meet those goals, Microsoft president Brad Smith tells Axios.

Why it matters: In order to reduce carbon emissions, companies need employees with a range of new skills, including a deep understanding of how supply chains work as well as the ability to properly account for how much carbon a company is emitting.

Driving the news: Microsoft is releasing a report Tuesday highlighting the need for more workers with specialized training in environmental issues.

  • To date, most of the companies leading in sustainability work have staffed their efforts from their own ranks and lack specific expertise at the field. That approach, Smith said, won't suffice as projects scale up.
  • "In the history of civilization, few generations have needed to do as much in as little time as we must do now," Smith writes in a letter accompanying Microsoft's report.

The big picture: Smith says he is concerned that efforts to address climate change keep taking a back seat to other priorities.

  • "Even though this is a decade of multiple short-term crises, like COVID and now a war in Ukraine, it’s imperative that we stay focused on the climate crisis," Smith said in an interview Monday. "Frankly, we’re running out of time if we’re going to meet the UN goal of keeping the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade."
  • A weakening economy could also threaten both new and existing climate-related commitments. "It’s understandable that businesses will feel pressure to cut back in certain areas, but the world cannot afford to wait for faster action to reduce carbon emissions," Smith said. "And this needs to be a business imperative if we’re going to act with the speed that is required."

Between the lines: Smith said Microsoft has learned a variety of lessons from its own work and that of its customers. Some are highly specific — such as converting kitchens and cafeterias from gas stoves to electric.

  • Smith said that another key has been an internal "carbon tax" system that gives Microsoft's business units a financial incentive to cut emissions.
  • But some of what's needed is just a mix of common sense and a willingness to take action. "The fastest way to get ahead is to get started," he said.
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