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Microsoft names new Chief Sustainability Officer

I’m delighted to share the news that Melanie Nakagawa will join Microsoft in January as our new Chief Sustainability Officer. Reporting directly to me as a Corporate Vice President, Melanie will partner with teams across Microsoft and take on the leadership role for our company-wide environmental sustainability work.

Melanie brings to Microsoft almost two decades of environmental sustainability experience at the nexus of policy, business and technology, which will be vital as we continue our sustainability journey. She most recently served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Climate and Energy on the National Security Council at the White House, one of several roles she has held in the U.S. government. At the White House, Melanie played a leadership role on international and domestic climate initiatives, as well as energy issues that included the international energy response to the war in Ukraine.

Melanie Nakagawa headshot
Melanie Nakagawa

This built on Melanie’s prior work, including as the director of climate strategy for a climate tech-focused private equity firm working with growth stage companies in North America, Europe and Asia. She also brings experience in the nonprofit and academic sectors on environmental and energy policy and regulatory issues.

Melanie joins Microsoft at a critical time. January will mark the third anniversary of our ambitious climate goals to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove our historical carbon emissions by 2050. While I’m pleased with our progress, we must accelerate our momentum and broaden even further our climate-related work.

This urgency reflects the current state of climate issues around the world. As I found while meeting with global leaders last month at the United Nations COP27 climate conference in Egypt, the world confronts a complex and sobering challenge. As the United Nations Environment Programme reported in October in its annual Emissions Gap report, current national climate plans fall short of what will be needed to meet the world’s climate targets.

And as U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said at COP27, the “deadly impacts of climate change are here and now.” This means the world must not only push harder toward the goal of a Net Zero economy by the middle of the century, but move quickly and aggressively, especially in the Global South, to help vulnerable populations adapt to a world with a changed climate.

Given the enormity of these challenges, the pursuit of progress will require extraordinary innovation in the years and decades ahead.

And while every month seems to bring new foreboding studies, I also found cause for optimism in Egypt. For example, globally almost 4,000 companies have now dedicated themselves to the pursuit of climate pledges. And as the world focuses on the implementation of climate pledges – a major theme at COP27 – businesses have an increasingly important role to play. This was on bold display at COP27 as the United States’ Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, announced that the First Movers Coalition, launched just last year with the World Economic Forum, had grown to 65 companies dedicated to working and moving together faster.

Especially for a company like Microsoft, with our focus on helping the world’s organizations innovate through technology, our climate-related role could not be clearer. Cloud-based digital services, the better use of data, and rapid advances in AI will create new opportunities for us to help every organization achieve more progress in addressing the world’s climate and energy needs.

This connects directly with the three-fold sustainability mission that we launched as a company in September at the U.N. General Assembly meetings and that Melanie will now lead.

First, we will continue to drive toward achieving by 2030 our commitments to become carbon negative, water positive and zero waste as a company while contributing to the biodiversity of the planet. The team that Melanie leads includes environmental scientists of international stature, and they will help keep Microsoft’s work grounded in the best available science. And more than ever, the Environmental Sustainability operations team will partner with Microsoft’s Finance team and business and sustainability experts across the company to achieve the company’s internal and operational goals.

All this will build on recent and important steps across Microsoft. These include the construction of a new Thermal Energy Center for our Redmond campus, the pursuit of a Net Zero water certification for our Silicon Valley campus, and our most recent steps toward Zero Waste operations through the opening of our 4th and 5th Circular Centers in Singapore and Chicago. These complement our global renewable energy investments for our datacenters and investments that have made Microsoft the largest carbon removal purchaser in the world.

Second, we will accelerate innovation and deliver technology to help our customers and partners achieve their sustainability goals. Like Lucas Joppa, our first Chief Environmental Officer, Melanie will work with me to bring together leaders across Microsoft to work together and learn from each other. The good news is that sustainability has become an important team sport across Microsoft, with senior leaders in place for product development, marketing and sales, including Microsoft’s Elisabeth Brinton and Darryl Willis, who work hand in hand with our customers and partners to transform their businesses with our sustainability and energy solutions. Each quarter we’re strengthening the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, adding capabilities and investing in the next-generation, cloud-based sustainability data ecosystem the world needs. All this connects closely with the broader array of innovations in the Microsoft Cloud and our own climate and renewable energy innovations across one of the world’s largest arrays of datacenter operations.

Third, we will partner with governments, nonprofits, and businesses to spur the broader societal enabling factors critical to global sustainability progress. This includes existing and new initiatives that Melanie and her team will lead to help:

  • Broaden the use of climate-related data and more powerful AI, including by the United Nations and across the Global South;
  • Advance new and innovative climate, energy, and sustainability laws, policies and regulations;
  • Support reliable, interoperable, and globally aligned measurement accounting and reporting systems for carbon emissions;
  • Build new markets for climate and sustainability solutions, including through our Climate Innovation Fund and carbon removal purchases; and
  • Help develop and support the skills and talent needed for both specialized sustainability roles, as well as for existing jobs that will evolve to require sustainability fluency.

These three sustainability missions are grounded in three tenets that will guide our future sustainability work as a company.

First, we believe there is a virtuous cycle connecting these three missions. Progress in each mission helps strengthen our ability to pursue the next. In this sense, all three are interrelated and dependent on each other.

Second, we believe that cross-sector efforts will be indispensable for sustainability progress. As with almost all big problems in the world, we need a three-legged stool: business, nonprofits and governments. We believe that businesses have a unique role to play in innovation, especially when it comes to climate, energy and digital technology and product innovation. Nonprofits are often the best at incubating new societal solutions, often by using innovations that come from the business sector. And governments can bring solutions to scale in a way that no one else can, both through their public budgets and the power to legislate and regulate. Even in a divided world, the planet’s sustainability challenges require that we all come together.

Finally, across Microsoft (and the world, for that matter), environmental sustainability is becoming infused in almost everything we do, and our success requires navigating a matrix rather than managing a system of command and control. Melanie and the Environmental Sustainability team she will lead acts as a fulcrum across Microsoft, helping to bring everyone together and speaking publicly for the company. This is like the role that our corporate teams play in a variety of other areas, including accessibility, digital safety, privacy, human rights and responsible AI. As we’ve learned, the difference between success and failure always turns on our ability to work effectively as a team across a large company and with an even larger digital ecosystem.

It’s typically my role and privilege to help empower, work with and support talented leaders across all these areas and more. None of the issues are easy. And the environmental sustainability challenges may even be harder than most.

I’m excited that Melanie Nakagawa will help lead so many talented people across our company as we address the planet’s sustainability needs. And I look forward to supporting her!

Tags: carbon reduction, Climate Innovation Fund, net zero, sustainability

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