Sustainable Growth Podcast

Going carbon negative: the mission to surpass carbon neutral and go beyond carbon

Episode 14, Season 7

Do we have carbon tunnel vision? In this episode, we talk to Musidora Jorgensen, Chief Sustainability Officer at Microsoft UK, about the role psychology and AI play in sustainability, the importance of a company’s sustainability strategy and Microsoft’s own sustainability goals, including becoming carbon negative by 2030. Musidora also explains why their focus is not just on carbon and delves deep into how Microsoft is supporting sustainability efforts through technology, from building a planetary computer to gather data about the impact of the rising temperature on nature to creating ecological digital twins of rivers in collaboration with the UK water sector.

Host: Jane Goodland, Global Head of Sustainability at LSEG


  • Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Sustainable Growth Podcast where sustainability and finance meet. I'm your host, Jane Goodland, and in this episode we've got something a little different for you because today we're talking to Musidora Jorgensen, who is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Microsoft UK. LSEG has formed a ten year strategic partnership with Microsoft, so we thought it would be great to get them on. It's a really interesting chat. We cover psychology, technology and of course, sustainability. So let's get on with it and hear what she has to say. So hi Muzzy, how are you doing today? It's lovely to see you.

    Musidora: [00:00:38] Thank you. Really excited to be with you, Jane. I'm hoping it's going to be a really exciting chat.

    Jane: [00:00:43] Yeah, well, exciting times. We've got lots of cover. And as ever, I've got lots of questions for you. So you are the Chief Sustainability Officer for Microsoft UK. Very cool job, by the way. And you've been there a year and a half now, but I kind of want to know how you got there. So what have you done before? I think you're pretty much a tech thoroughbred, right? So what have you been doing and how have you come to this point in your career now?

    Musidora: [00:01:07] Well, I don't think anyone's ever described me as a tech thoroughbred, James, but I'll take it. Thank you. My career has been 20 plus years in the technology industry. And actually, if you'd asked me when I was starting out, if I would spend 20 plus years in the technology industry, I probably wouldn't have guessed that I would. But the reason why I have actually is because it's a really exciting industry to be in. And you'll know from the pace of change that we have seen in the last 20 years in terms of things that have come up and what that's meant for the world and how it's changed the world, that it's a really exciting and fast pace place to be. So that's why I'm still here and still loving it and find it very exciting. And what's led me here actually to the role that I'm doing today and leading sustainability for Microsoft in the UK is really a culmination of things that I've done across my career to date. And I think working for one of the world's biggest technology companies, obviously having an understanding of technology is important because that's the thing that we do. So in the time that I've done lots and lots of different roles, probably age me by the things that I've been involved with in terms of where technology has gone over that time. But really three things that have underpinned everything. So I guess the first is how technology can solve for customer problems, for industry problems, what that means when it comes together to collaborate and the opportunity that technology presents really for solving the world's biggest problem that we've got, which is the global climate crisis, is something that we're all unified around here at Microsoft.

    Musidora: [00:02:41] The second is the role that innovation plays. And actually I find this really exciting that there are some brilliant ideas sitting in people's heads that haven't yet been realised. And again, the thing that technology can do to help drive that is what gets me out of bed in the mornings. But I've done a lot of those sorts of things in terms of bringing teams together to think about new ways of working, the impact that change has in terms of what that means and how to really harness the power of brilliant ideas across organizations. And then the third is my passion really and the thing that I set off to do when I left school, which was to understand people and what makes people work and what makes brilliant teams and what makes people want to change and what motivates and drives people. So those are all three things that are really important when it comes to sustainability. And as I say, what's really led me here to to look at how we can do that for the UK when it comes to having a more sustainable future.

    Jane: [00:03:40] Excellent. I think it's really heartening actually to hear about the roles of technology and innovation coming in because I think that to solve, like you say, some of the biggest problems that we collectively face, we're going to have to start doing things very differently. And I think that the pace at which we need to change the way BAU works actually does require this kind of real injection of innovation, new ways of thinking and where best to look for that than the technology sector So brilliant that some of the leading lights on sustainability are coming from the tech space, which is great. I did want to dig into one of the things you said, actually, which I think is often an overlooked element of sustainability, and that's about the people angle. And I did happen to see on your LinkedIn profile, I like stalking people online, no, I didn't say that, obviously. But I'm fascinated by people's careers and I was looking at what you'd studied and read at university, and I notice that you've done psychology and you've literally just talked about kind of the role of people in this transformation. So to what extent have you been one of these people that actually use their degrees in their in their day jobs? How much does psychology really influencing how you're trying to drive the agenda at Microsoft and more broadly in the market?

    Musidora: [00:004:54] Well, it's a long time ago but one of the reasons why I did psychology, somebody gave me some brilliant advice when I was at that point of choosing subjects and working out what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be when I grew up. And really brilliant advice, which I dish out if anybody needs to, to have any guidance around that is go and do something that you're really passionate about, that you're really interested in. Because actually largely and certainly at the time when I was going to university, what you study, unless you want to go and be something very specific is about your capacity to learn. It's about looking at the application of that into other things and how you can work through that is much, much easier to be successful if you're interested in it, as opposed to trying to slog away at something that you think you should be doing. It's served me really well, actually. But but halfway through my degree, I realised I didn't want to be a psychologist, per se, and I had a really sort of serendipitous route that led me into into the world of commercial and into technology, actually. But I think psychology does play a big role in sustainability because as I said, the the one of the underpinning things that we all need to do is change what we're doing, not only as individuals but within our communities, within the world of business.

    Musidora: [00:06:09] And change isn't always welcomed and lots of people get a bit worried and scared about change. And so how we can help collectively to get people around the new way of working or being or whatever it might be, and to be able to communicate that and understand what's happening amongst our communities and within organisations from a people aspect is really important because the sooner we can move to the new way of being, the quicker that we can realise the benefits. And obviously from a sustainability perspective, reverse some of the effects that we've had in the world to date, which means we're going to be in a more sustainable future. So I think it is really the centre of most things when it comes to how are we going to work in a different way and so having those skills around understanding what's happening not only from, you know, the pure psychology of it, but from what transformational leadership looks like as well, I believe.

    Jane: [00:07:01] Yeah. I mean, it's such a good point because often I look at the way in which organizations, be those companies or different kind of state organisations try to tackle sustainability, almost like as a science project. And actually, whilst we do definitely need science because this is all built on science, it's hearts and minds as well, isn't it? And effectively it's organisational change. I don't necessarily see sustainability being dealt with as a transformational change program and it needs to happen more often I think, in my opinion. It needs to be thought about as a system wide organisational change program. And often it's not and it's not thought of in that way. So I think the role of psychology and behavioural change is something that I certainly will take away from this conversation and try and think about how how we can play that through in terms of some of the work that we're doing in LSEG on this. So thanks for that. Another thing on my to do list. What I wanted to also touch on is coming into the Microsoft world. I'm so curious about how Microsoft thinks about sustainability. So why don't we just talk at a really high level about what the strategy is for Microsoft. And I'm also curious about how the UK kind of fits into, is it the Microsoft mothership, I don't know. But how do you all connect together on this, you're one of the biggest tech firms in the world, so how on earth do you organize yourselves and what are you focused on?

    Musidora: [00:08:24] Microsoft has been on the sustainability journey for a long time, so this isn't a new thing. So we've had plenty of opportunities to to work out and practice and we're still learning and working through how we accelerate for the things that we've committed to do. But it really stems around four things the strategy in terms of our commitments and the ambitions that we've got in terms of how we get our own house in order. And before I go through those, it's probably worth setting that we look at sustainability through three sort of lenses, three sort of concentric circles if you like. So the first is what do we need to do to get our own house in order? The second is how can we help our customers, our partners, the world with a lot of the complexity that sustainability brings by the technology and the platform that we have and the breadth and the capability that technology brings in terms of accelerating for all of those solutions is what I find really exciting about where the. crossover comes. And then the third is how we use our voice around things like policy and what's happening in the world at large in terms of how Microsoft can support that. So those are the three lens. But when we look at what we want to do as Microsoft and the commitments that we've made, we've got four key commitments. So the first is all around carbon. And we said we want to be carbon negative by 2030. So what that actually means is that we take out more carbon from the environment than we actually emit.

    Jane: [00:09:47] Which is quite punch right? That's ambitious to say the least.

    Musidora: [00:09:50] It is. And look, we've been carbon neutral for ten years. So really, if we're going to hit the 1.5 degree that everybody committed to at the Paris Agreement, we need to go further than everybody just being carbon neutral and look at how we can help and support those sort of nascent industries around actually taking carbon out of the environment. So that's the first thing. And to go the step further and, again, this is steeped in our belief around those organisations who can do more, should do more. We've said that we want to take out all the carbon that we've ever emitted since we were founded in 1975. So that's the big, how are we going to ensure that we're really going as far as we can ambition that we've got around carbon? And then of course, you know, I'd like to talk a lot about not just having carbon tunnel vision. The problem isn't just about carbon. There's a whole piece across things like water. So we said we want to be water positive by 2030. The impact around waste is having in the world, so zero waste by 2030. And then of course, there's the as you all know, Jane, the impact that the rising temperatures have on things like nature and biodiversity. So we're putting a huge amount of effort into what we can do to play our part for protecting ecosystems and nature. And so we're building the planetary computer, which is an open source data platform to really try and gather all of the data points and information that's happening in terms of the impact of the rising temperature with nature so that we can make collectively make better decisions in terms of how we go to protect it.

    Musidora: [00:11:26] So those are the four key things that we focus to, and how we build that across Microsoft is aligning to the science based targets. It's governed from the top down, but all the way through the organization. And one of the parts of my role is to think about how we make sustainability part of everyone's role, particularly in the UK, but that will be across the world from a Microsoft perspective. So our global strategy is led by Melanie, who sits in Seattle and ensuring that we're doing everything that we need to do across all of our regions, of which of course I'm aligned around what we do in the UK. But that is multi multifaceted across, as I say, how we're driving efficiencies, what we're doing in terms of our operations, what we're doing in terms of our supply chain and the value chain and what that means in terms of educating and leading, advocating for change within the world, etcetera. So there's lots of different levels to it, as I know you do in your role as well, there's no one single thing that we're  focused into solely but across the piece how we are engaging and mobilizing and helping to ensure that we all live in a more sustainable future. So it's a fun role, really enjoying it.

    Jane: [00:12:39] Yeah, it sounds brilliant. My mind's sort of boggling really about the potential that Microsoft has to really be a game changer on this and I just think it's super exciting. And I guess I'm curious to know a little bit more about how you deploy the strategy, because I think you mentioned in the past that the UK, is it the second largest market for Microsoft after the US?

    Musidora: [00:13:04] It's one of our biggest markets, yes.

    Jane: [00:13:06] Do you sit down with Melanie and sort of talk about the strategy and sort of work out who's going to take the lion's share of the carbon  negative piece or how does that actually break down in terms of, I guess, the share, what share is it the UK has to do and how does that all join together? Because it seems like a really complex web.

    Musidora: [00:13:23] We look at our impact as a whole in terms of all of our operations across the world. And so thinking about things like our data centres and the impact that we have in terms of use of water, etcetera, because we have water through our operations as we need within data centres, how that aligns around things that we do out in our real estate and what that means. It's really across every single part of of how we operate. And so that needs to be built from the central point, which is Melanie's team supported through, we have teams of scientists and teams of policy makers and embedding into all of our different functions. So all of our procurement teams and our teams working with customers, teams building products, everything filters through to what what it means for them in terms of their role that they're doing. So there is alignment at a senior level and an executive level in terms of ensuring that the success is met for all the commitments that we've made, as well as then the accountability that we build through all of the different lines of business that we have. So one of the things that we've introduced is something called the internal carbon fee, which is really looking at how we can help everybody think about making better decisions for the overall part of the thing that they're responsible for, so their business unit. A carbon fee will be applied to the amount of carbon that they had impact in over the course of the year. And then we can build that as a fund to go and look at what we do for things that we want to do internally, but also what we want to do out in the market for things like our Climate Innovation Fund, which is a fund to look at how we can help and accelerate for those technologies, those innovations, those things that we all need to take advantage of as we go into the future.

    Jane: [00:15:12] So you talked earlier about Microsoft's ambition to be carbon negative. I really want to dig into what does that mean and how does that happen?

    Musidora: [00:15:19] So it's embedded across everything that we do at Microsoft. So there's lots of different aspects to it. There's no one single thing. And of course we need to ensure that we're looking at it through many different lenses. But a couple of things that we are doing, so, for example, we've bought recently, in partnership with Orsted, one of the biggest carbon capture and removal contracts that we've made - 2.76 million metric tonnes over the next 11 years. So that's one of the ways that we're looking at removing more carbon from the environment than we emit. And then when we think about things like what we're doing across our operations, how we're driving efficiencies, how we're using energy and water within things like our data centres, how we move to be 100% renewable energy by 2025, down to things like how people move around on our big campuses. So having electric busses and electric kitchens and then all the way into what that means for our employees, how we harness their voice and their innovations and enable them to think about what they're doing across all of their roles, right down to what that means for writing software. So green software, what that means in terms of the lifecycle of products. And I could go on, but it's across everything that we do, which in culmination means that we can get to the targets that we need to by 2030 and 2050. So it's really exciting. But it's all hands on deck.

    Jane: [00:16:49] Yeah, absolutely. But I think it gets to the point that this can't just be something which is tackled as a side project or something that the property and facilities team will just will just sort out. This is about a wholesale system wide change. So really interesting to hear the breadth of the activity. Fabulous. So, Muzzy, let's talk about AI, please, because we seem to see AI all over the place. Every newspaper, every website is talking about AI. And I'm really curious to know where you sit in terms of whether or not AI is going to be something which is helpful for dealing with sustainability challenges or it's something that we should be  fearful of and worry about in terms of sustainability. So talk to me about that.

    Musidora: [00:17:31] I think, as I said, one of the exciting things that technology can bring is the ability to help work through and solve for a lot of the problems that sustainability brings. And the underpinning thing, from a technology perspective, that a lot of organizations struggle with when it comes to how to gather all of the information that they need, not only to report from a regulation perspective on what's happening through the ESG lens, but also then to make better decisions, to do things in a different way, is how to gather the data for all of the things that are happening not only within the organization, but, as you all know, the challenge that comes into the scope three piece. So what that means across the entire value chain of an organization. So the how to unify all of that data and to get the insights that are needed to move faster in terms of this action piece is a really great opportunity that I think new technologies represent. And one of the things that we've done as Microsoft is build the common data model for what that looks like in our Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, to help organizations with this, because it's a really challenging thing when data is sitting all over the place in different formats. Sometimes it's not dynamic, sitting on spreadsheets, etcetera. So how do you bring all of that together.

    Jane: [00:18:51] You talked about cloud for sustainability and I'm not sure that everyone's going to be familiar with that. Can can you tell me more about that because this could be a light bulb moment for people to kind of go, oh, that's a really good solution.

    Musidora: [00:19:00] It's one of the areas that we've focused into how we can help our customers using our technology and a lot of the innovations that we've gone to build for some of these challenges. So Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, it's our platform for helping solve for a lot of the sustainability challenges that customers are seeing across the ES and G. And so for the first piece, the big challenge that's coming down the track at the moment, particularly in Europe, is around the regulations that are requiring customers to report on what's happening across their organization. So the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, one of the pillars that we've got there is our sustainability manager. So that is about gathering all the different bits of data that sit within an organization, sit out within the value chain, being able to look at that through a lens, that means that you can make the decisions that you need to in terms of what needs to change. And then the developments that that means around not only looking at through the carbon piece, but what that means for water, for waste, what that means around the social impact bit. So it's really we're trying to solve for this challenge that that a lot of our customers have around the data piece. And it's really exciting. We've got lots of customers who are working with it. Our big one that we've got in the UK is the BBC, who are able to build all the way down to a cost centre level in terms of what's happening and then how they can ensure that that's being run as efficiently as possible in terms of their overall view that they need to report on.

    Musidora: [00:20:31] So there is great opportunity, I think, that technology brings with helping to do some of the things that  industries and businesses are trying to think about. And then when we think about AI, I mean there's already fantastic use cases around what that does from a sustainability perspective, particularly when it comes to things like being able to look at what's happening across the supply chain, for example, or what that means for driving energy efficiencies within a building or within operations. And we're working with the UK water sector, particularly with Anglian Water, around looking at building a digital twin of one of the rivers up in Norfolk, it was one of the world's first ecological digital twins. So a digital twin for anybody who doesn't know is a digital representation of something in the physical world. So you can model changes and insights and things on the digital system before you do it in the real world. And those are where some of the opportunities are coming and customers are really excited about what that means, again, for their sustainability strategy and actually moving into the action of the change that those industries and organizations need to see.

    Jane: [00:21:41] I think that's fabulous. And I'm thinking, I wonder if I could have a digital twin who was who was younger and better looking. What do you think?

    Musidora: [00:21:48] It wouldn't be the same, Jane.

    Jane: [00:21:50] I think it sounds fascinating. It's just, I've got to say, I am so not a technology person. So for me, this is really unfamiliar territory in terms of just even understanding some of the potential. But it sounds like there's huge potential and certainly just the cloud for sustainability, just organizing information better actually is just a fundamental part of what all organizations need to do, right? It's the old adage of, you know, if you can measure and monitor it, then you can manage it. People are still using spreadsheets to kind of collect all their data and actually we need to move on, don't we, and get better, quicker, more efficient and more higher quality ways of sucking this data in to then ask the so what questions and the how to questions. So that all sounds great. I'm just wondering as we close the conversation, when we're thinking about innovation and technology, it's all quite the future is now. From your perspective, your conversations with your clients, what sorts of things should we be thinking about as we go off into our day job? From a Microsoft perspective, what are the big issues that we should be alert to in the sustainability sphere? What we should be reading up on, what we should be doing? What can we look out for?

    Musidora: [00:23:02] Look, I think there's no one single thing here, right? It's incredibly complex, but the important thing is to get going. And if you haven't got a sustainability strategy embedded into the overall business strategy, then that should absolutely be top of mind. And a lot of organizations are still at the beginning of the  journey around thinking about this. And by the way, it's incredibly difficult as well. So if anybody is struggling with it, then you're not alone. But also there are organizations like Microsoft out there who have been on the journey, can help and support with some of those challenges. The second thing, I think as leaders within our organizations, we should be thinking about whether or not we've got the right skills in place to be able to help navigate for the change that we all need to go through. So one of the things that Microsoft did last year was we did a report on the looming sustainability skills gap that is coming up. So all of those skills, not only the green and blue traditional sustainability skills that you would think about, but where are those skills? How are we fostering those within our organizations that we're going to need around things like systems thinking like circular thinking, like influencing the change management skills that we spoke about earlier that we all need to be able to accelerate for the things that we want to do.

    Musidora: [00:24:16] And interestingly, those skills around being able to translate the sustainability world into the finance world or the procurement world or the commercial world so that the acceleration piece can move quickly. And I think also the opportunity that we can all take in terms of being brave and courageous about doing things in a different way, being open to ensuring that we're building our culture within our organization that is open to innovation and how we're fostering that, as well as what we're doing to build our diverse teams. As always, I mean, this is, we know, is not a new challenge that we've got. But even more so the overlay between how fast we can do for the sustainable future that we need to get to and where things like equality and diversity and equity comes into it and what we can do within our organizations to accelerate that is really important. But there's no one single thing, unfortunately, Jane, it's get going.

    Jane: [00:25:13] And there was I thinking that you might give me the answer. No, I couldn't agree with you more. I think some of those things that you've just touched on there are super important. It's really about people. It's about skills. It's about BAU, this becoming just a new way of being as a business. And also, the perfect one around, just get on with it, right? All of us are navigating through unchartered territory. There is no blueprint, you know, so we've just got to get on with it, even if sometimes we might need to iterate along the way. And of course we will have to do that a lot. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today. It's been really fascinating and somewhat scary for me because I'm not a tech person, but but it's been really enlightening and I really hope that and I'm pretty sure that you've shed some light on what Microsoft and technology are doing for sustainability. So thank you so much for your time and see you again soon.

    Musidora: [00:26:04] Thank you for having me, Jane. A real pleasure.

    Jane: [00:26:06] So that's it for this week's episode of the Sustainable Growth Podcast. I've been your host, Jane Goodland, and if you're not already following us, then please do so and don't forget to rate us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any other platform you use. And if you've got questions, comments or someone you'd like us to talk to, then get in touch by email at Thanks for listening and I hope you'll join us for another episode very soon.

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