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‘It’s critical’: can Microsoft make good on its climate ambitions? | Environment

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When the UN’s landmark climate report was released in 2018, calling for urgent and unprecedented changes, Microsoft executives were told to “commit it to memory”, said Elizabeth Willmott, who leads the company’s carbon program. “And so we did.”

The report warned the world must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to avert catastrophic climate change. To achieve this, not only must the emissions released by countries and companies be dramatically curtailed, but billions of tons of carbon dioxide must be sucked out of the atmosphere.

These findings directly informed Microsoft’s climate policy, said Willmott. In January 2020, the company announced that it would be carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 it would have removed from the atmosphere all the carbon it has emitted since it was founded in 1975. By making this pledge, the company joined a small group of businesses, including Ikea and the software company Intuit, committed to going further than net-zero.

Microsoft is often ranked as a leading business on climate action. Its policies – from making it easier for people to repair their devices to launching software to help companies measure and manage carbon emissions – have been praised for going beyond the company’s own operations to the footprint of its suppliers and customers.

“Being a large, well-known brand, and putting a stake in the ground, talking publicly for years about the importance of climate change, is really critical,” said Simon Fischweicher, head of corporations and supply chains for the environmental non-profit CDP North America.

President of Microsoft Brad Smith as the company announced its carbon negative plan at Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, on January 16, 2020.
President of Microsoft Brad Smith as the company announced its carbon negative plan at Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, on January 16, 2020. Photograph: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

However, Microsoft has also been criticized for actions that appear to contradict its bold rhetoric on climate, including membership of trade associations that lobby against climate legislation, contracts with oil and gas firms and donations to politicians who obstruct climate policy.

These connections make it “complicit” in efforts to push against climate action, said Bill Weihl, a former sustainability executive at Google and Facebook and the founder of the advocacy group ClimateVoice.

Scaling up goals

Microsoft has been operating as a carbon-neutral company for nearly a decade, a feat it has achieved through buying carbon offsets as well as securing renewable power directly from clean energy companies and installing onsite renewable energy, such as solar panels at its offices.

Since 2012, Microsoft has also implemented an internal carbon fee, currently set at $15 a metric ton, making business units pay for emissions related to their operations and electricity, as well as from business air travel.

“The money gets collected and spent,” said Willmott, whose carbon management team uses the money to fund initiatives such as buying clean energy and carbon offsets. “I have to pinch myself regularly because that was something we dreamed about and didn’t think was actually going to happen.”

It’s a “powerful mechanism”, says Fischweicher, to push a company to think more deeply about the impact of its activities: “To pay a fee, you start to think about: ‘What can I do to reduce that so I have more money in my budget?’”

But the company has recognized that much more is required to tackle the climate crisis and the plan to go carbon negative was a big step up in ambitions.

Microsoft has laid out milestones for reaching the target. By 2025, it aims to reduce the emissions from its direct operations to “near zero” through gains in energy efficiency and using 100% renewable energy. By 2030, it has committed to reducing by at least 50% its direct emissions and those from its supply chain.

The company’s supply chain – more than 58,000 suppliers provide everything from office furniture to the metals and plastics used in its products – makes up the bulk of its emissions. Last year, the company implemented a carbon reporting requirement for suppliers and it extended the internal carbon fee to cover supply chain emissions.

But in order to remove more emissions than it produces, the company will rely heavily on carbon removal projects. These include nature-based initiatives such as funding reforestation projects, but the company is also pinning its hopes on technology. Microsoft is investing $1bn to support emerging technology that can reduce, capture and remove carbon from the air.

As part of this, the company has invested in and purchased carbon removal from Climeworks, which operates the world’s largest direct air capture plant, in Iceland, removing CO2 from the air and trapping it in rock underground.

Climeworks direct air capture plant near Reykjavik, Iceland.
Climeworks direct air capture plant near Reykjavik, Iceland. Photograph: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty Images

In 2020, Microsoft removed 1.3m metric tons of carbon through a range of initiatives from nature based programs to carbon capture technology.

However, these projects face obstacles. Relying on forests and soil to trap endless amounts of carbon is increasingly difficult in the face of worsening wildfires, pests and changes in land use. And carbon removal technology is not anywhere near the scale needed. There are 19 direct air capture (DAC) plants in operation globally, capturing just over 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The International Energy Agency has estimated that reaching net zero by 2050 would require the world to scale up DAC to capture more than 85m tons each year by 2030 and around 980m tons a year by 2050.

It’s a challenge that Microsoft is grappling with. The number and type of projects currently available is “far short of what we need”, said Willmott. By 2030, the company estimates, it will need to remove 5m to 6m tons of carbon. This means the technology will need to be considerably scaled up to meet Microsoft’s demands alone, she said, “and that’s to say nothing of the fact that there’s a real spike in corporate demand”.

It’s not just the amount of viable carbon capture projects that’s lacking, Willmot said; there’s also a quality issue. The industry doesn’t fully distinguish between avoided emissions and those that are actually removed from the atmosphere, she said. More robust quality standards would go a long way to making sure “it’s not quite a wild, wild west that it is today”, Willmot said.

“[Microsoft is] opening up new conversations about historical emissions without having all the answers,” said Aoife Brophy, departmental research lecturer in innovation and enterprise at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “Leaders on climate need to acknowledge the complexity of the problem and be transparent about the fact that there are not always clear solutions.”

Microsoft’s focus on historical emissions could also help spur a deeper conversation, she said, about “responsibility for the past, and may lead to much better ways to think about issues like climate justice that have not yet been adequately addressed by companies”.

A wider influence

The modern corporate sustainability movement requires companies to also consider their impacts on customers, peers and society more broadly. This shift in perspective, said Fischweicher, “is a really critical turning-point moment … because what you’re also talking about is shifting your business model overall”.

To Microsoft’s critics, this means the company should reconsider its work with oil companies. The same week that Microsoft made its carbon-negative announcement, it sponsored an oil conference in Saudi Arabia. A 2020 Greenpeace report digging into tech companies’ work with the oil and gas industry – such as providing software to support fossil fuel extraction – found that its contract with ExxonMobil “could lead to emissions greater than 20% of Microsoft’s annual carbon footprint”.

The company also spent about $200,000 during the 2020 US election cycle supporting politicians with a history of climate denial. And this October, Microsoft – along with other corporations – was criticized by the watchdog group Accountable.US for its membership of trade organizations with a history of fighting climate crisis legislation, including the Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce. Most recently, these groups have lobbied against climate legislation included under Joe Biden’s reconciliation bill.

“I feel really strongly that we need to be able to work with everyone to make this transition to a low-carbon economy in the future,” said Willmott, responding to these criticisms. “I really think it’s important not to villainize any particular sector, or villainize any particular entities, but rather really work hard from within to shape the journey.”

Weihl, whose organization ClimateVoice is calling on Microsoft and others to devote one-fifth of their lobbying dollars to climate policy in 2021, remains skeptical. “Companies are putting their narrow self-interest ahead of actually addressing the climate crisis at scale,” he said. “Silence and unwillingness to publicly distance themselves [from these groups] is not neutrality, it’s complicity.”

Whether it’s Microsoft’s customers and affiliations or the type of work it does, experts agree the company’s size and political heft as well as its position within trade groups give it immense power – and it’s all about how the company chooses to use it.

“Tech companies shape how we engage with the world, and the information we see on a daily basis,” said Brophy. “We need to think of impact beyond measuring emissions and consider ways in which technology can be used to create change across different systems.”

Microsoft’s climate commitments are laudable, she said, but ultimately success will require collective action. “The biggest challenge is that Microsoft’s goals cannot be achieved by Microsoft alone,” said Brophy. “But that’s exactly what we need to see companies across industries doing more of: coming out and being bold, recognizing that they need to be systems leaders.”

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Alfred Hitchcock: Vertigo review – uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons | Games

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Pendulo Studios’ Vertigo begins, just like the 1958 film, with a visual and musical motif of spirals. Round and round they go until you meet author Ed Miller in the worst moment of his life. Ed narrowly survives a car crash, but he loses his wife, Faye and their daughter. Staring down at the wreck of his car in a ravine, Ed suffers a debilitating bout of vertigo, only to relive the suicide of his father shortly after. A little later, you step into the shoes of Dr Julia Lomas, a therapist called in to deal with Ed’s vertigo and why he keeps talking about a wife and child whom no one but him seems to recall.

While it’s called Vertigo, complete with the licence of Hitchcock’s name and likeness, the game makes hamfisted references to the director’s work. Yes, there are birds, yes, someone will be ripping a shower curtain to the side. But when it comes to embodying the spirit of Vertigo itself, Sight and Sound’s greatest film of all time, it falls almost comically flat.

The mystery that Vertigo the game initially presents is intriguing, if quickly soured by how unbearable its protagonist is. Ed is childish and rude to the point of hostility without any obvious reason why. His behaviour is explained away by a traumatic childhood, bluntly presented as the root of all his issues and teased out by his therapist in a series of non-consensual hypnoses. The gameplay mimics Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human, from awkwardly moving the controller to open a fridge and using timed button-presses to run, to rewinding memories, an idea that actually fits the concept of a therapist analysing her patient’s recollections quite well.

Screenshot from Alfred Hitchcock: Vertigo.
Awkward animation and mediocre voice acting … Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo. Photograph: Microids

Due to its big licence and popular influences, it comes as a particularly sharp disappointment that the writing in the game version of Vertigo is the worst thing about it. Awkward animation and mediocre voice acting certainly don’t help. Dialogue, presumably recorded separately by actors alone in sound booths, sounds like two people having two different conversations (“What am I going to do without my husband?” “Well, you could start by making dinner”).

You might reasonably expect that a game named after the film Vertigo would, you know, follow the plot of Vertigo, but no. Everything happens in service of an increasingly ridiculous story, which reduces a film that featured male obsession, the male gaze and the ways in which victims unknowingly facilitate their own abuse, to the vendetta of a psychopath with a seemingly unlimited supply of drugs. If you thought the film was convoluted, try getting your head around this nonsense. It is almost worth playing for the part where an elderly man is, apparently convincingly, impersonated by a 24-year-old woman in a trenchcoat and sunglasses.

This version of Vertigo portrays women in a way that is seriously difficult to stomach in a post-#MeToo era. Here, women prey on an unsuspecting man using, for instance, sex and hypnosis to lure him in and do him harm. Male trauma is of course absolutely real, but this game doesn’t have the tools to examine it with the required care, and ends up essentially saying #MenToo – and doing a significant disservice to the body of cinematic work that inspires it.

Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo is out now, £34.99.

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Apple removes apps from Russia’s major social media company • The Register

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Russian social media provider VK Company Ltd has confirmed its apps were removed from Apple’s App Store.

“Some VK applications are now blocked by Apple, so they are not available for download or update in the App Store,” said (translated from Russian) the company formerly known as VKontakte.

VK reassured users that installed apps will continue to work but said notifications and payments could get tricky, though recently issued core updates would keep the company afloat.

It suggested users of its most popular product, Facebook analog VKontakte, could use the mobile or desktop version of the site.

“VK will continue to develop and support iOS apps,” said the company. The apps remain available on Google’s Play Store.

According to state-owned news agency TASS, Russia’s Ministry of Digital Affairs contacted Apple to find the reasons behind its deletion and said the company would receive a subsequent “plan of action.”

TASS also reported that the company sold its gaming division to businessman Alexander Chachava for $642 million on Tuesday. The division will continue to be run by its current management. Many other gaming systems are currently blocked in Russia thanks to sanctions.

VK’s share price wobbled this week on the Russian stock market, according to state-sponsored media RT, dropping over 20 percent on Monday and recovering 7.5 percent on Tuesday.

VKontakte’s founders, brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, are also the founders of messaging app Telegram.

Pavel Durov left VK as CEO after refusing to hand over Ukrainian protester data or block Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s VK page. He subsequently placed himself in exile and eventually obtained Saint Kitts and Nevis, French, and United Arab Emirates citizenship.

The billionaire’s hobbies include posting shirtless pictures on Instagram and trolling Russian president Vladimir Putin. ®



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13 tips for graduates transitioning to working life

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Hays’ Sandra Henke shares her advice for those at the start of their career journey on how to successfully move from student life to the working world.

Click here for more advice for the sci-tech class of 2022.

Have you recently graduated? Are you grieving the loss of your old student life? Are you wondering what it will be like to be a fully-fledged member of the working world?

I hate to break it to you, and as patronising as it might sound, you really are about to enter the real world, one that will bring a whole load of new lessons. So, remember, just because the relentless exam process has finally stopped for you, your learning hasn’t. Far from it.

Quite frankly, the prospect of making this life-changing transition can feel terrifying. But it doesn’t need to be. I want to share with you how you can successfully transition from university, college or school, to working life – and get your career off to the best start possible

Accept that everything is going to change

From now on, your life is going to be different in pretty much every way. You’ll have to get used to early mornings, possibly commuting and not going out partying on a Wednesday night, which might mean your social life isn’t perhaps as fun or wild as it once was – during the weekdays, anyway.

You may well have moved back in with your parents again or have even moved to a new city, meaning your home life will change too. You must do your best to accept and even embrace these changes. Try to see this change as an opportunity for personal growth and learning, instead of a negative thing.

You’ve dealt with change before

Remember, you’ve managed to deal with the unsettling feelings that come with change in the past, so you’ll adapt quickly again this time. Think back to when you first started university. Everything about your life changed overnight, but you quickly managed to settle in, in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Adjusting to the changes that come with starting your new job is no different. You are more adaptable than you think, so draw some confidence from that as you prepare to enter the next chapter of your life. Understand these changes are only temporarily unsettling, and you will quickly form new habits, schedules and rituals, and importantly, start to enjoy your new life.

Keep an open mind

I’m sure you’ve long wondered what the ‘corporate world’ is really like, being an eager spectator from the outside, waiting for your time to enter it. You’ve probably formed some strong assumptions over the years – both good and bad – from family, friends, lecturers, careers advisers, even TV programmes and films.

Of course, some of these assumptions will be more accurate than others. So, try to keep an open mind as you embark on your first job, free from preconceived ideas about what it will be like.

Be patient and persevere

If you’re about to start your first proper job, some of your responsibilities will likely be relatively admin-based, at least to begin with. This won’t be the case forever, so try to understand and appreciate that from the outset, instead of feeling unmotivated or dejected.

As you climb your career ladder and become more senior, your responsibilities and tasks will become more interesting and advanced. So, be patient, stay motivated and persevere.

Your first job won’t be your last

It’s important to understand that your first job won’t be your last one, for the simple reason that we’re all living and working for longer than we have ever done in the past.

So, if your first job isn’t everything you thought it would be, don’t worry too much. This is just the first stage of your career journey – you have a wealth of experiences ahead of you. Take as much as you can from your current role, and then move on.

Don’t compare yourself to your friends

In the era of social media, when it feels as if everyone is on a quest for more ‘likes’, it can be easy to start comparing yourself to your friends from university. This isn’t healthy and it’s certainly not helpful.

Instead of scrolling through their social feeds, talk directly to your friends – ideally in person – about how they are transitioning from student to working life. You will find that most of them will be in the same boat as you, which can be reassuring and can also give you a sense of perspective.

Remember that social media can be deeply deceptive, as people only tend to share the things on their social media profiles that they wish others to see.

Try not to feel intimidated

During your time as a student, the only people you probably would have come across regularly who were in a more ‘senior’ position to you were your lecturers. The world of work can be a whole different ball game. You’ll almost certainly come across people who are much older than you, and in much more senior positions – possibly positions that you might aspire to be in one day.

Try not to feel intimidated by this, instead see it as an opportunity to learn. Remember that even the most senior person in the company was once in a similar position to the one you’re in right now. Everyone has to start somewhere. In any case, it’s very likely that one day, you’ll be in their shoes!

Realise that you’ll be expected to pick things up quickly

One thing you’ll have probably learned during your time in education, is that you can’t expect to be spoon-fed if you want to be successful. Much the same can be said if you’re to succeed in the world of work. You will almost certainly be expected to get to grips with the responsibilities of your new role relatively quickly.

Of course, your new employer will help you do this, but it’s also important that you personally commit to proactively learning and working hard, particularly as you’re settling in and finding your feet.

Also, you have learned heaps of transferrable skills at college or university (things like self-motivation and tenacity, time management, the ability to work under pressure, personal development and communication) so put these to good use as you make the transition into full-time paid work.

Remember, it will typically take you three to six months to feel truly settled and adept in your role, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself either.

Have the confidence to ask questions and share your ideas

You may have reached what you consider to be a high level of knowledge in your degree subject over the last few years of studying, but when you start out in the world of work, you’ll soon realise you don’t know everything. In fact, you’ll sometimes feel like you don’t know anything.

Again, though, this is no reason to allow your confidence to be battered down. Quite the opposite, in fact – employers appreciate young graduates for their curiosity, energy and eagerness to learn, not to mention the fresh and new perspectives they often bring. So, if you do find yourself bubbling with exciting ideas when you join a business, don’t be afraid to suggest them.

Perfect your email and telephone etiquette

This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s one that is often under-appreciated by graduates. You will be expected to adjust the way you communicate when in a corporate working environment.

It’s therefore a good idea to familiarise yourself in advance with the key points of professional email and telephone etiquette, such as the importance of introducing yourself if you haven’t spoken to or emailed that person before and responding to stakeholders in a professional and timely manner.

Prepare to have less free time

While your income is likely to go up as a result of your first job, the amount of free time you have will almost certainly go down – you’ll no longer have those long summer holidays, for starters.

However, the commencement of this new chapter of your life is also a great opportunity to start using your time more wisely, including carefully planning what you do in the evenings, as opposed to the random jaunts to the pub or club that might have been typical of your student days.

To start with, you might feel like all you’re doing is working. However, once you get used to your elevated hours spent earning your own money, you’ll realise there’s a lot that can be done after 5pm and during the weekends.

You will have different people in your life

Entering the world of work means meeting a lot of people who will probably be very different to those you’ve come across before. Whereas university lectures were likely often full of people of a very similar age generation and outlook on the world, your new work colleagues will probably be very different.

This isn’t something that should scare you – it is actually a good thing. You might not expect to become good friends with someone who is 10 years older than you, but you’ll soon realise that you have a lot more in common with your co-workers than you first think.

Bear in mind that the contacts you make now will probably stay with you throughout your career and will therefore be fundamental to your success both now and in the future. In short, these people you might not initially think you can easily relate to, may be vital in helping to build the foundations of your career.

Establish healthy habits

It can be so easy to fall into less-than-healthy habits during your first weeks and months in your first job. After all, you’ll be ‘on-the-go’ all the time and everything else seems to take a backseat. You may have also inherited some unhealthy habits from your time at university – I’m referring to things like staying up too late when you need to get up early to go to work or allowing a sedentary lifestyle to take over if you work in an office role.

So, be sure to embed good habits from the beginning, including eating well, exercising, resting and relaxing – doing this will help you establish, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Committing to healthy habits early on will also help you to not only adjust better to this drastic change in your life, but also perform at your best in your first job, keep you motivated and feeling less stressed.

The transition from student life to the world of work can understandably feel intimidating and overwhelming – but it really doesn’t have to be this way. By following these steps, you can ensure that you start your career in the best way possible, whilst laying the foundations for your future success.

By Sandra Henke

Sandra Henke is the group head of people and culture at Hays. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays blog.

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