How Microsoft Employees Pressured the Company Over Its Oil Industry Ties

The non-profit environmental site Grist reports on “an internal, employee-led effort to raise ethical concerns about Microsoft’s work helping oil and gas producers boost their profits by providing them with cloud computing resources and AI software tools.” There’s been some disappointments — but also some successes, starting with the founding of an internal sustainability group within Microsoft that grew to nearly 10,000 employees:

Former Microsoft employees and sources familiar with tech industry advocacy say that, broadly speaking, employee pressure has had an enormous impact on sustainability at Microsoft, encouraging it to announce industry-leading climate goals in 2020 and support key federal climate policies.

But convincing the world’s most valuable company to forgo lucrative oil industry contracts proved far more difficult… Over the past seven years, Microsoft has announced dozens of new deals with oil and gas producers and oil field services companies, many explicitly aimed at unlocking new reserves, increasing production, and driving up oil industry profits…

As concerns over the company’s fossil fuel work mounted, Microsoft was gearing up to make a big sustainability announcement. In January 2020, the company pledged to become “carbon negative” by 2030, meaning that in 10 years, the tech giant would pull more carbon out of the air than it emitted on an annual basis… For nearly two years, employees watched and waited. Following its carbon negative announcement, Microsoft quickly expanded its internal carbon tax, which charges the company’s business groups a fee for the carbon they emit via electricity use, employee travel, and more. It also invested in new technologies like direct air capture and purchased carbon removal contracts from dozens of projects worldwide.

But Microsoft’s work with the oil industry continued unabated, with the company announcing a slew of new partnerships in 2020 and 2021 aimed at cutting fossil fuel producers’ costs and boosting production.
The last straw for one technical account manager was a 2023 LinkedIn post by a Microsoft technical architect about the company’s work on oil and gas industry automation. The post said Microsoft’s cloud service was “unlocking previously inaccessible reserves” for the fossil fuel industry, promising that with Microsoft’s Azure service, “the future of oil and gas exploration and production is brighter than ever.”

The technical account manager resigned from the position they’d held for nearly a decade, citing the blog post in a resignation letter which accused Microsoft of “extending the age of fossil fuels, and enabling untold emissions.”

Thanks to Slashdot reader joshuark for sharing the news.

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