Ema Popova is the Healthcare Industry Lead for Southeast Europe at Microsoft and has a strong focus on digital transformation and cultural growth through technology. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of information technology across various industrial segments and geographical regions, including solution sales, partner relationship management, transformation projects, brand management, and market entry strategies.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing sustainability today and how is Microsoft addressing them?
Sustainability is facing numerous challenges today, with climate change being one of the most pressing issues that requires a transformational shift in the way we produce and consume energy. As our new research 2022 Environmental Sustainability Report shows, year 2022 marked the sixth warmest year in history. Extreme weather caused devastating droughts, wildfires, famine, floods, and heat waves with alarming frequency. We felt the effects of climate change like never before, and as the planet warms, we’ll continue to see and feel the negative impacts on ecosystems and communities around the world. However, despite economic headwinds, sustainability initiatives can deliver rapid payback for businesses and the planet, creating extra incentives for action. It’s possible to achieve this with digital innovation which can help organizations lower energy consumption, reduce travel, use resources more efficiently, and make smarter decisions informed by data, all of which can help cut costs and emissions.
Microsoft has committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030, achieving zero waste production and positive water usage, and offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions produced since our founding by 2050. The company is investing in renewable energy, promoting sustainability in the supply chain, and reducing product carbon footprint. Clean energy access is made inclusive and equitable, benefiting society. We have recognized the urgency of the sustainability challenge and the company is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing it, and by promoting sustainability and using digital innovation to drive progress, Microsoft is helping to create a more sustainable future for all.
How can digital innovation impact sustainability?
Digital innovation can have a significant impact on sustainability by enabling organizations to use resources more efficiently, reduce their carbon footprint, and make data-driven decisions to promote sustainable practices. Microsoft recognizes the potential of digital innovation to promote sustainability and has taken an active role in driving positive change. Microsoft is developing innovative solutions such as cloud-based tools to help businesses monitor and reduce their environmental impact. Cloud for Sustainability helps customers improve business processes, reduce environmental impact, identify opportunities for sustainable IT infrastructure, create greener value chains, and automate carbon accounting and reporting. It brings together ESG capabilities from across the Microsoft cloud portfolio with solutions from their global ecosystem of partners. Also, we can embrace remote working to cut the time, expense, and emissions associated with business travel. Digital technology can enable employees to work and collaborate effectively from anywhere. With more being able to be achieved remotely, it can significantly cut business travel costs and associated emissions, whilst improving productivity.
We have technology, but do we have a workforce skilled enough to use it?
There is a growing gap between sustainability workforce needs and the availability of qualified people, and many businesses are putting in place internal reskilling programs to address this. The skills gap in sustainability refers to the lack of expertise and knowledge in various sustainability-related fields, including specialized knowledge, specific subject areas, and broader fluency in sustainability issues and climate science fields. Recognizing the importance of addressing this gap, Microsoft is working with partners to develop and share sustainability learning materials. This includes LinkedIn Learning paths for sustainability, Microsoft’s Sustainability Learning Center, and learning and certification resources for technical teams.
Microsoft is also partnering with NGOs to provide support and training for workers to complete sustainability learning pathways, creating new curricular and training materials for primary and secondary students, and offering hands-on experience. These initiatives are grounded in the understanding that while technology is an essential tool for advancing sustainability, the people who possess the necessary skills and knowledge are the ones who will power the transition to a more sustainable future. By investing in sustainability education and training, Microsoft is not only contributing to the development of a more sustainable workforce but also helping to build a more sustainable world.
How can companies be encouraged to adopt more sustainable practices and reach sustainability goals?
It is important to measure and understand the core activities of the company, set ambitious goals, and integrate sustainability into the company’s strategy. We believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for the technology sector to improve the way we manage Earth’s natural resources. In 2017, we launched Microsoft’s “AI for Earth” program to put Cloud and AI technology in the hands of leading global ecologists and conservation technologists, as well as organizations around the world working to protect our planet. The program increases access to artificial intelligence technologies through grants, provides education on Cloud and AI to foster collaboration within our community, and encourages innovation through research and strategic partnerships. So far, we have empowered numerous organizations in over 100 countries worldwide to work on environmental innovations that set new standards. It is necessary to combine knowledge from STEM and other fields with business acumen, data utilization, and digital technologies.
There is also a need for employers to enhance and upgrade the knowledge of their employees. To support these efforts, Microsoft, along with its partners, is working on developing and sharing sustainability learning materials. This includes sustainability-focused sections on LinkedIn Learning, which are available in Microsoft’s Sustainability Learning Center. Microsoft’s most significant contribution to reducing its carbon footprint is not only achieving its own sustainability goals but also helping clients and partners around the world reduce their environmental footprint through technology, innovation, and collaboration.
What advice would you give to other employers looking to integrate sustainability into their operations and corporate culture?
Start with a clear vision and goals: Define your organization’s sustainability vision and goals, and ensure they are aligned with your company’s overall mission and values. This will help you establish a roadmap for integrating sustainability into your operations and corporate culture. It is also important to engage and educate employees about sustainability, provide training and resources to help them integrate sustainability into their daily work, and encourage them to be champions of sustainability in their communities. Furthermore, partnering with other organizations and stakeholders to share best practices and drive collective action can help accelerate progress towards a more sustainable future. Finally, I would emphasize that sustainability is not a one-time initiative, but a continuous journey that requires ongoing commitment and innovation.