Overall, Microsoft created a detailed and technical press release with a collective "we can do it" tone and inspirational buzz that was received with excitement by most media and the public, with some criticism aimed at the gaps between its commitment and its practice in reality regarding gender and working with big oil. Delta, on the other hand, presented a much more vague announcement, which likely negatively affected its credibility and press uptake. AstraZeneca's press release was similar to Delta's, and their accompanying videos lacked engagement or interest value.
Microsoft Announces It Will Be Carbon Negative by 2030
- Formal announcement made on Jan 16, 2020.
- In the announcement, Microsoft talks about partnering with customers, and also mentions specific projects, such as working with Vattenfall on a 24/7 matching solution.
- Microsoft has also partnered with Pachama, a Silicon Valley startup, which tracks forest carbon stocks using advanced remote-sensing technology including LiDAR, artificial intelligence and satellite imaging.
- Microsoft says they will fund the plan by expanding their internal carbon fee.
- They also announced a $1 billion climate innovation fund "to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies." This fund, Microsoft says, will be used in two key areas; accelerating technology development through investment in project and debt finance; and by investing in new innovations "through equity and debt capital."
- Microsoft aims to cut carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, and the company committed to removing "from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975" by 2050.
- Further, Microsoft committed to shifting to 100% supply of renewable energy by 2025, to electrifying their global campus operations vehicle fleet by 2030, and that from July 2020, they would start phasing in their current internal carbon tax to cover their scope 3 emissions.
- Microsoft also said that by July next year they will begin to "implement new procurement processes and tools to enable and incentivize our suppliers to reduce their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions."
- The announcement was accompanied with a graphic of three Microsoft leaders, a graph illustrating Microsoft's changing carbon emissions year by year, another graph demonstrating how increased GDP has paralleled increased carbon emissions, and a 4-minute black and white illustrated video explaining the maths behind Microsoft's sustainability goal.
- There were no direct quotes in the announcement itself.
- In interviews following the announcement, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said: “The economy that we all enjoy, or the capitalist system we all enjoy, I think will fundamentally be in jeopardy, if the planet which is THE resource, the factor of production that has fueled all of our capitalist society will be in danger. So to me, that is the existential priority.”
- At the launch event for the announcement, Microsoft President Brad Smith said, "While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why today we are announcing an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint."
- “If we are going to have any hope of getting out ahead of climate change this is our last decade to do so. For us a week or so after we entered the decade, it was just the right time to significantly expand our commitments in the space of sustainability and carbon," said Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer Lucas Joppa to ABC Audio.
Media Coverage of the Announcement
- Overall media response: Cautious to very positive
- Washington Monthly — What Corporate Leadership on Fighting Climate Change Really Looks Like: This article had an extremely positive take on the announcement, describing it as setting "a new standard," and the author said they felt "impressed" and commented "The courage of Microsoft’s convictions will be a welcome tailwind on a difficult journey." The author said Microsoft's goals have "a distinct disposition of humility."
- Mongabay — Success of Microsoft’s ‘moonshot’ climate pledge hinges on forest conservation: This article calls Microsoft's pledge "landmark" and notes that experts in carbon accounting "voiced cautious optimism" about Microsoft's model. One expert cited in the article worried "that $15 per ton for carbon may not be sufficient as an incentive, except perhaps in poorer regions, like rural Brazil."
- KCRW — Microsoft wants to go carbon negative. What does that mean?: This podcast involved an interview with a climate change expert. The coverage was neutral and explanatory. "The cool thing they have is an internal carbon tax," the interviewee said. He seemed optimistic that Microsoft's plans are "actually working."
- Ensia — 3 ways to tell if corporations are genuine about fighting climate change: This article only briefly mentioned Microsoft's announcement, but its take on it was more critical, as it noted the irony of the announcement while the company has also donated to the election campaign of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, a climate change denier.
- Asia One — Microsoft announces it will be carbon negative by 2030: This article's take was neutral to positive, and it covered the announcement details as factual ("Microsoft will reduce...") rather than as plans. It described the commitment as "ambitious" and "aggressive."
- QZ — Microsoft stock is the biggest winner from environmental and socially responsible investing: This article took a more neutral to negative approach to the announcement. Framing it in terms of investor decisions, it said that while Microsoft has been included in FTSE Russell’s FTSE4Good Index, and its latest announcement makes it look good for the environment, it doesn't score so well on gender issues. "The discrepancy highlights a conundrum for investors," the article said.
- My Central Oregon - Microsoft Announce's Goal To Become Carbon Negative: This article was a wrap up of Microsoft's press release and of an interview conducted by Joppa with the ABC. The article is more neutral in tone, reporting that "Microsoft says it will..." rather than "Microsoft will..." as Asia One wrote.
Language, Tone and Keywords
- Microsoft's announcement is detailed, technical, and explanatory. It includes broader context, specific details regarding the 3 different scopes of emissions, and builds credibility through mathematical and scientific content. It takes a first person plural approach — communicating that this is a problem that "we" all have to tackles. The language also conveys the large scale of a grand undertaking.
- Buzzwords used include: empowering customers, investing, technology, contribution, carbon reduction, solutions, offerings, complex task, living standards, transparency, energy (repeated throughout the text, even when describing employees), moonshot, commitment, achievable goals.
Social Media Reactions from the Public
- The general public response has been excited and positive, with a few critical responses from environmentally aware members of the public.
- Nick Nguyen tweeted that he was "Proud that @Sprinklr partners with a company that values sustainability — Microsoft says they'll be carbon negative by 2030 #climatechange"
- Arnaud Auger tweeted, "Congrats @Microsoft for being one of the first to set an ambitious plan! You have set the new normal, others will have to follow."
- Benji Backer tweeted that Microsoft "is standing with the environment in solidarity by going carbon neutral by 2030. Private sector solutions to environmental issues exist...and they work."
- Environmentalist Teresa Anderson was more skeptical and critical and tweeted, "Prime example of a net zero scam: Microsoft’s recent announcement they’ll get to #NetZero by 2030 relies on BECCS — a tech that doesn’t actually work at scale, probably never will, and will be a disaster if it does — to account for about 1/2 of those planned GHG reductions."
- Lawyer Will Horne was more positive, tweeting, "So far in #2020: @blackrock putting climate front and centre in managing $7 trillion, @Microsoft going carbon negative by 2030 , @BP_plc, going net zero by 2050, Now @JeffBezos giving $10 billion to fight climate change. This is just getting started."
- Environmentalist Guy Shrubsole compared Microsoft's pledge favorably to the UK's lack of action.
- Scientist Tristan Kosciuch said, "Nice pledge from @Microsoft to remove all cumulative emissions by 2050, going beyond carbon neutral. Hopefully it plays out!"
- Author Brian Merchant was critical, saying, "Microsoft: We plan on being carbon *negative* by 2030 [long applause break] Also Microsoft: We are, at this very minute, sponsoring an oil conference in Saudi Arabia and will continue to help Big Oil accelerate fossil fuel extraction any way we can."
- Norwegian email company tweeted critically, "Commendable by @Microsoft -- but 2030 is 10 years too late. We need #CarbonNeutrality immediately, while there is still time to avoid #Climate catastrophe. #ClimateEmergency."
- Member of the public Orso Mattia Nasini tweeted snarkily, "Clear example of a cruel and selfish company who only cares about building great technology and empowering people to do more and be better. #microsoft #2030."
Delta — $1 Billion Commitment to Becoming First Carbon Neutral Airline
- Formal announcement made on Feb. 14 2020.
- The press release wasn't specific regarding partnerships. Instead, it noted that Delta is "building coalitions with our employees, suppliers, global partners, customers, industry colleagues, investors and other stakeholders to advance carbon reduction and removal goals and maximize our global impact."
- A brief note near the end mentioned Delta's "recent partnership and offtake agreements with Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels and Gevo" as part of its policy of working with innovators.
- Delta's announcement was lacking in specifics and in hard figures. For example, they noted, "Delta will allocate some of its financial commitment into investment vehicles, including a dedicated fund focused on achieving its carbon neutral ambition."
- Delta's main goal is, "Starting March 1, 2020, Delta Air Lines is committing $1 billion over the next 10 years on its journey to mitigate all emissions from its global business going forward."
- The press release itself did not include any visuals, but the company made a 1-minute video of the CEO announcing the commitment. The video is only playable via LinkedIn (not a best practice in terms of shareability).
- Both the press release and LinkedIn announcement included direct quotes from CEO Ed Bastion. On LinkedIn, Bastion said, "I’m a firm believer in the power of air travel to bring people together, increase understanding and generate social good across the world. Travelers shouldn’t have to choose between flying and being good environmental stewards. The broad, industry-leading work we’ve done over the past decade isn’t enough — we need to do more, faster. This is a race for our planet, not a race to be No. 1."
- In the formal press release, Bastion said, “There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution. We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation."
Media Coverage of the Announcement
- The general media response has been neutral to positive, though less excited than it was for Microsoft, and mostly sticking the press release script.
- Forbes — Delta Pledges $1 Billion To Become World’s First Carbon-Neutral Airline: Forbes' coverage was positive and described Delta as being one of few airlines to "navigate a new course toward the future." The article was largely based off of Delta's press release, with some extra contextual research included.
- GreenBiz — Delta lifts off with $1 billion pledge to become carbon neutral: This coverage was more neutral, noting that Delta "says" it will do things, that it "plans" to take certain actions. Unlike Forbes, it also recognized four other airlines that have made similar such pledges, though this article too was largely based off the press release. The article also warned that some company commitments need to be supported by "robust industry-wide rules if the aviation industry is to be reshaped to fit a climate-friendly economy."
- Business Traveller — Delta commits $1 billion to carbon neutral plans: This coverage was neutral, and largely a copy-paste reorganizing of the press release effort.
- Forbes (oped) — Delta’s Carbon Neutrality News May Win Public Relations Points, But There’s Less To It Than Meets The Eye: Another Forbes article, as an opinion piece, this one was more critical. It says Delta "scored big points" with its announcement, but then expressed some disbelief with the $1 billion figure, " a seemingly big number even for a company that brought in $47 billion in revenue last year." The writer noted the lack of details from Delta about how the billion would be spent and how the increased flights would be offset.
- Fox — Delta to invest $1 billion to cut carbon emissions: Fox provided largely neutral coverage, though it noted Delta's lack of fuel efficiency and older fleet.
- WSOCTV — Delta commits $1 billion to become first carbon neutral airline: This article was neutral to positive and largely a re-hashing of the press release.
- Travel Market Report — Delta Air Lines Commits $1 Billion to Become Carbon Neutral: This coverage was short and leaning positive, describing Delta as " continuing efforts towards sustainability."
- UPI — Delta unveils 10-year plan to become world's 1st carbon-neutral airline: Another short article with neutral to positive reporting, backed with some token context about other airlines making similar moves.
Language, Tone and Keywords
- Delta's press release was heavy in quotes from its CEO, and compared to Microsoft, it was lacking in specifics. The quotes from Bastian were also vague, and therefore a little less believable or credible, "every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions." Unlike Microsoft, Delta also emphasized other areas of social contribution, such as employee profit sharing and supporting "communities worldwide." Delta ended its press release by noting numerous environmental achievements and accolades/awards made to date.
- Buzzwords used include: rigor, financial secure, journey, scale, talent, resources, better world, global communities, innovation, transparency
Social Media Reactions from the Public
- The general public response has been positive, though muted. They see the news as "promising" but seem to be waiting for outcomes before getting excited. There were a larger proportion of people who were doubtful about the truthfulness behind the announcement and saw it as spin.
- Climate activist and former investor Tom Steyer welcomed Delta's announcement, saying, "Proof that you can fight climate change and still run a profitable business."
- Climate activist Lila Holzman said the news was "promising."
- Member of the public, John, was curious to see how United would respond to the announcement.
- Writer Chate Fade was skeptical and hopeful at the same time, saying, "Feels good to see Delta and Jeff Bezos stepping up to help with climate change. Is it a PR stunt? Probably. But 10 billion from Jeff and project by Delta to become carbon neutral is something to be hopeful about."
- Traveller Stephan Segraves was also skeptical, "Delta says they will spend $1bn to become carbon neutral... All while flying some of the least efficient jets in the world."
- Educator Pedro Espinoza had a positive take on the announcement, "Congratulations to @JetBlue for being the first and @Delta for following with a more ambitious plan to combat #ClimateChange. May more airlines follow suit."
- Sport enthusiast Nathan Ratledge was also positive, "A few days old in the news cycle, but fantastic to see @Delta committing to carbon neutrality. Def increases my interest in selecting your flight options. Thumbs up."
- Member of the public, Alby , was skeptical, "When Delta says it will be carbon neutral, you know ESG is nothing more than marketing spin to win over dollars from snowflake liberals."
- Member of the public, Connor, was largely positive but also hoping for more, "Great to see airlines looking to mitigate their #carbonfootprint I wonder when we'll see the first commercial alternate fuel source aircraft and will it be full #electric or maybe hydrogen?"
- CEO Leo Kingston was also positive, "Kudos @Delta ... Delta Air Lines wants to become fully carbon-neutral and will invest at least $1 billion in doing so — the largest commitment of any airline."
AstraZeneca Ambition Zero Carbon announcement
- The company is partnering with One Tree Planted, a non-profit organization focused on global reforestation, to plant 50 million trees over the next five years.
- AstraZeneca also emphasized its role in founding the Sustainable Markets Council, a public-private network of global leaders.
- AstraZenaca also has a $1 billion plan, which they say includes "the launch of next-generation respiratory inhalers and a wide range of energy initiatives to reduce climate impact to zero."
- AstraZeneca's two main goals are "eliminate emissions by 2025 and be carbon negative across the entire value chain by 2030."
- To reach the 2025 target, the company says it will convert 100% of its energy consumption to renewable sources "for both power and heat, and have a 100% electric vehicle fleet."
- The company's website article about the announcement includes a 1-minute YouTube video. The video format is text over b-roll, with no voice (just music). It includes the same content as the company press release. It has only been viewed around 700 times over the past month. A second video, produced with the same style, provides an overview of the company's achievements so far.
- The website article also includes pop-up text over generic images, providing information about the zero-carbon strategy, targets, value chain, and more.
- In the press release, CEO Pascal Soriot is quoted as saying, “Climate change is an urgent threat to public health, the environment and the sustainability of the global economy. Since 2015, we have reduced our carbon emissions from operations by almost a third and our water consumption by almost one fifth. But now is the time to act even faster and redouble our efforts. The commitments AstraZeneca has made today as part of our ‘Ambition Zero Carbon’ strategy will enable us to speed up the reduction of our Company’s impact on climate and inspire collaboration at a global level to effect policy change.”
- Though media and public response wasn't included in the scope of this request, it is worth initially noting that AstraZeneca's announcement has received much less coverage. Most coverage is from industry sector media. The company was also mentioned in an article about green washing.
General Best Practices
Based on the above research into Delta, Microsoft, and AstraZeneca, we can conclude that some best practices for such sustainability announcements include specificity and hard numbers with dates, monetary amounts, and detailed measures for increased credibility, including leadership quotes in the press release as the media will use those, and that visuals seem to have less of an impact on media and public response than detailing specific measures has. Contextual framing is also important, noting the company's other environmental and social achievements, in order to offset claims of hypocrisy. In addition, the following five best practices for sustainability press releases and promoting a company's sustainability, also apply:
Convey a Leadership Role
- Paul Polman, of Unilever, states, "The big issues the world is facing require new approaches, new business models and new partnerships. Responsible businesses must take a more active leadership role." Corporations are now using PR as a way to accelerate their own change and impact. Going public early on sustainability can have a strong impact on the company, its role in its industry, and its relationship with employees. That is, position the brand as an active figure in the issue.
- Andrew Last argues that it is important to set and communicate "a clear direction on sustainability." He says that frees people in the company to talk about it passionately, and those people "are your best advocates."
Be Transparent and Honest
- Last argues for transparency of motives and telling the full story, including the bumps. This means being upfront about the business motives that are also driving any announcement, rather than wrapping them in "cloying half stories about the social good."
- It also means being open about what was tried and hasn't worked. "Vulnerability plays surprisingly well with sustainability stakeholders and a cynical public," he argues.
- Consider that consumers are savvy and a vast majority of millennials are loyal to companies that care about the environment — data that suggests that such caring must be genuine.
Go Beyond Just Saying You're Sustainable
- In a saturated market competing for media attention it isn't enough now to describe a company as "ecofriendly." It's important to outline the company's key differentiators and expand that into a business story and into information that goes beyond the sustainability narrative.
- A sustainability campaign should be a personal mission for the company, which consumers can participate in. The EnVeritas Group recommends not just talking about what is or will be done, but also how that is affecting people, citing locations and examples to back that up. Basically, go beyond talking about how the company is different and what it is doing to focusing on the people angle.
Provide a Long Term and Consistent Plan
- The public is aware that sudden change is impossible, so objectives must target high-scale change over a large time frame. Short term hits in production costs may be necessary to fully adopt new practices and build towards the long term goal.
- Any sustainability must apply across the board. It won't work to communicate to consumers that one aspect of the company is being made eco-friendly if other aspects aren't. This issue was demonstrated when McDonald's released its paper straws — the media quickly broke that the straws, replacing plastic ones, also couldn't easily be recycled.