Before the pandemic, in fiscal year 2019, Microsoft employees emitted nearly 400,000 metric tons of CO2 as they flew on business trips. “That’s more greenhouse gases than my entire country of Tuvalu emits in a year,” Richard Gokrun, a climate activist from Tuvalu—a tiny Pacific island nation threatened by rising sea levels—writes in a forthcoming op-ed. Gokrun is part of a global group of activists calling for the tech company to rethink business travel: If 2020 proved that remote collaboration was feasible, they say, Microsoft should more permanently shift to virtual meetings to help tackle the climate crisis.
The campaign, #JustUseTeams, asks Microsoft to keep travel at 2020 levels by using its own videoconferencing and remote collaboration platform. “For a company that talks big on climate, racial justice, and sustainability, this level of corporate air travel doesn’t look great,” Gokrun writes. “For a tech company that literally has its own video-conferencing platform—Microsoft Teams—it’s downright stupid.”
Microsoft declined a request for an interview, but noted that it’s trying to reduce the carbon footprint of travel. In a partnership with Alaska Airlines, the company buys sustainable aviation fuel made from waste oil for some of the routes Microsoft employees most commonly fly, like Seattle to San Francisco. A similar partnership with KLM covers flights to the Netherlands. It also buys carbon offsets for other flights, though carbon offsets often have flaws. In its most recent sustainability report, the company touts the fact that it shifted to remote meetings and conferences during the pandemic, and even earlier, for its 2019 shareholder meeting. (For its MVP Global Summit in March 2020, it estimates that the shift to a virtual meeting eliminated nearly 5,000 metric tons of emissions, or the equivalent of taking 390,000 cars off the road for a day.)
The company hasn’t commented on how much it plans to limit future business travel. But because it has ambitious climate goals, with an aim to be carbon negative by 2030, the activists argue that it needs to do as much as possible. As one of the top 10 corporate fliers, it can also push other companies to make the same choice. “When Microsoft will make this change, other companies will also get inspired and will try to walk on the same path,” says Jaweria Baig, a young climate activist from Pakistan involved in the #JustUseTeams campaign. The shift makes financial sense, she argues. “Other companies know that such a big company won’t do anything which will cause them loss . . . by not traveling and stopping useless flights they are saving a huge sum of money as well, so it is a win-win situation in my perspective,” she says.