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GROUP REPORT

Communicating Sustainability

E. Visser, 461408

M. Wieles 459792

J. Mencke 369468

C. Hendriks, 461132

J. van der Laan, 459999

RSM, Erasmus University, Communicating Sustainability

Date: 23-06-2017

Professors: J. Cornelissen & G. Berens

Table of contents

 

Industry 5

The sustainability issue - Carbon neutrality 5

Stakeholder management 6

Communication channels 9

Strategic intent 10

Themed messages 10

Message styles 11

Vision-culture-image model 11

Culture 11

Image 12

Conclusion 13

Figure 1.. Overview of revenue per business segment 17

D: Table 1. Microsoft's total revenue from sales per fiscal year 17

Figure x. Benchmarking industry performance in terms of renewable energy 20

1. Introduction

Early 2017, Greenpeace (2017) reported that the IT sector will, over the course of the next decade, grow out to be the world's third largest emitter. While currently accounting for 7% of the global electricity consumption, the rapid electrification and digitalization of society are predicted to cause an explosive growth in the level of electricity consumption and, consequently, the level of emitted greenhouse gasses (GHGs). It is clear technical conglomerates have the potential to play a pivotal role in the mitigation of the emissions through, for instance, sustainable sourcing of their product, encouraging sufficiency on the consumer side, or the large-scale adoption of renewable energy (Dubious and Ceron, 2006). In addition, through providing access to information and technological development, players in the IT sector could also play a vital role in enabling other industries and/or consumers in tackling pressing social and environmental issues (UNFCCC, 2017).

As part of fulfilling a philanthropic task or simply gaining a social license to operate, it appears that companies in the IT industry are starting to recognize the ‘business case' for the adoption of sustainability measures, for instance, renewable energy sourcing. Microsoft, while not operating exclusively in the IT sector, is one such company that appears to be making the transition towards becoming a sustainability frontrunner. Despite its enormous growth in the cloud computing industry over the past half decade, it has managed to decouple its economic returns from its growth in emissions, even decreasing its emissions by 9 million metric tons (Microsoft Beyond Carbon Neutral, 2015). At the same time, Microsoft has committed to further invest in more sustainable projects to further decrease its emissions and leave a more positive footprint as a corporate citizen (ibid.). It will fund these activities through the voluntary imposition of an internal carbon fee, that it has implemented on its worldwide activities from 2012 onwards (Microsoft Carbon Fee Guide, 2015).

Now that awareness and consensus regarding sustainability has reached the boardrooms of IT companies and made its way into the core strategy, it is vital to effectively communicate the strategy, its implications and the underlying mission and vision to both external and internal stakeholders. To internal stakeholders because of the importance to ensure alignment and commitment from employees and managers to contribute to the goals set and carry out the message externally. However, equally important will be the communication of the message, timely and effectively, to external stakeholders such as investors, suppliers, and consumers. This effort is key,  because failing to capitalize on the new sustainable strategy might result in the company not gaining new advantage from their investments or, even worse, negatively affect the company's reputation and profitability (Cornelissen, 2017).

The aim of the current paper is to review the communication of Microsoft's sustainability strategy. This will be done by first providing a background of the company and the industry in which it is operating in order to get a sense of the most prominent sustainability related issues the company is facing. Thereafter, the report will zoom in on a specific issue which has turned into the foundation of the company's sustainability strategy, namely Microsoft's mission to become carbon neutral and the main, company-wide initiative that Microsoft has launched in order to achieve their goal of carbon neutrality, an internal carbon fee. Subsequently, Microsoft's main stakeholders will be mapped and assessed for salience in achieving the goal of carbon neutrality, after which several theoretical frameworks will be employed in order to critically review the communication of Microsoft's carbon neutrality mission to these stakeholders, as well as the gaps therein. The last section aims to provide several practical recommendations in order to improve the company's communication strategy.

2.Microsoft background and sustainability issue

Microsoft, a company perhaps most often associated with the iconic four panel logo of windows, is perhaps one of the most embedded in the Western World, through the lives of individual families but even more in the almost all organizations' operations. Microsoft's mission is ‘empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more' (Microsoft 2016 Annual Report, 2017). Microsoft's revenues of $85.3 billion, it is one of the largest companies in the world. Microsoft is active in three main business segments: ‘Intelligence Cloud', ‘Productivity and Business Processes', and ‘More Personal Computing'. Under the business segment of Intelligence Cloud fall products such as Microsoft Azure, and and Windows Server. Productivity and Business Processes is aimed more at creating software to make other corporations increase their productivity, such as the Office365 suite. Lastly, More Personal Computing includes products such as the Windows software, but also its new product range of Surface laptops and even gaming consoles such as the Xbox One.

Being one of the largest companies in the world (and being active in many related industries in the technological sector, does not require a large introduction in order to make clear the enormous footprint Microsoft leaves on societies worldwide Increasingly, technological leaders such as Microsoft (and its competitors such as Google, IBM, and Apple) are starting to take responsibility, but also recognize the immense business potential vested in cloud-based applications as a facilitating platform for global mitigation to Co2 emissions (Microsoft 2016 Annual Report, 2017), thereby expanding its positive impact beyond its own operations. This however, does not imply that Microsoft's own operations cannot be vastly improved in terms of efficiency and carbon emissions. Due to its commitment towards becoming a better corporate citizen and by acknowledging its vast impact on societies,  Microsoft has embarked on a mission to become carbon neutral

The sustainability issue - Carbon neutrality

In July 2012, Microsoft announced that it would take several major steps in terms of climate change strategy. Firstly, it announced that from fiscal year 2013 (FY13 - starting in July 2012), it would commit to making all of its operations ‘climate neutral'. Furthermore, Microsoft announced it would implement an internal carbon fee, also starting in FY13 (UNFCCC, 2016). These two approaches to climate change strategy are partially overlapping (as can be seen below) and will be discussed in this section. While these two facets of Microsoft's climate change strategy play central roles (at least in its communication thereof), they are insufficient in providing a holistic picture. As such, in the subsequent section, Microsoft's measures for GHG mitigation efforts, Microsoft's energy mix, raw material use, and measures for transparency will be presented. Lastly, Microsoft asserts that there are inherent opportunities in its products and services in mitigating climate change (Microsoft Annual Report, 2016). The final section on Microsoft's current climate change strategy will be dedicated to highlighting these possibilities.Although Microsoft generally has had lagged behind other corporate IT giants such as Google in terms of internally tackling climate change (Greenpeace, 2017), Microsoft has been committed since FY13 to operating climate neutrally by July 2013 (UNFCCC, 2016). Microsoft's strategy in order to do so is founded on three strategic pillars: Being lean, being green, and being accountable (DiCaprio, 2012). By being lean, Microsoft indicates its commitment to becoming more eco-efficient. In doing so, Microsoft attempts to become more energy efficient in its data centers, its software production labs, and its offices as well as reducing air travel (DiCaprio, 2012). Microsoft pursuits being green by investing in renewable energy and offset projects, and by reducing its waste and water use. Lastly, Microsoft's accountability record was improved by the imposition of an internal carbon fee, which will be more thoroughly explained in the following section.

3.The Microsoft carbon fee project

As discussed, before issues come into existence within an organization, the issue is often already a matter of concern to stakeholders (Cornellisen, 2017). In the case of Microsoft, rather than letting climate change issues evolve into a crisis, Microsoft was one of the first companies to implement sustainability into its organization by recognizing climate change as an active issue by using a bridging strategy; Following public protests, policies and climate & business acts, Microsoft decided to made a long-term commitment to carbon neutrality by establishing an internal carbon fee in July 2012 (UNFCCC, 2017).

Forming the core of the company's carbon neutrality strategy, the carbon fee initiative is targeted at holding Microsoft's internal business groups financially responsible for the carbon fee emissions associated with their operations (UNFCCC, 2017). Overall, Microsoft uses the carbon fee to fund the costs of carbon neutrality striving towards the following goals: 1) helping to translate the issues of climate change into business jargon, 2) transforming the culture of the company by establishing an expectation for environmental and climate responsibility, 3) investing carbon fee funds into internal and external climate-neutral projects and last 4) to empower communities globally by supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy (UNFCCC, 2017; DiCaprio, 2016).

Being one of the first companies to implement an internal carbon fee in 2012, Microsoft has already saved 14 million MWh of energy, had an impact of more than seven million people around the world through offset programs, mitigated more than nine million tons of CO2 equivalents and helped foster a culture of sustainability throughout the organization (DiCaprio, 2016).

Stakeholder management

In this section, an overview of Microsoft's most important stakeholders in its carbon neutrality strategy is presented. This will be done by assessing the salience of all company-wide stakeholders based on the stakeholder salience model (Mitchell et al., 1997). By doing so, an indication of what stakeholders should be prioritized in terms of Microsoft's communication strategy.

Mitchell et al. (1997) have proposed a stakeholder assessment model that assesses the importance of stakeholders in a certain context based on three metrics, namely power, legitimacy, and urgency. These variables determine the salience that these stakeholders ‘possess'. ‘Power' refers to the amount of power a stakeholder can assert over a firm's activities, ‘legitimacy' refers to how legitimate a stakeholder's claim is, and ‘urgency' indicates how urgent the stakeholder's claim is. In order to give an overview that is reflective of the true values that these variables possess in a stakeholder relationship, these values are presented in a spectral manner (as opposed to being presented dichotomously). As such, these spectral values are reflected in the terminology used in the stakeholder salience table below (where dichotomous values ‘0' or ‘1' are replaced with ‘none', ‘low', ‘medium', and ‘high').

Microsoft identifies the following stakeholders in its operations: customers, investors, employees, suppliers, civil society/NGOs, communities, industry coalitions and public-private partnerships, and policymakers (Microsoft 2015 Citizenship Report, 2016). These stakeholders are all ‘sentient beings', but stakeholders need not necessarily be sentient to be considered stakeholders in the stakeholder salience model as long as they can be shown to exert power over a firm's operations, have a legitimate ‘claim', and/or have urgent ‘claims'. For example, the natural environment in which Microsoft operates can exert power over Microsoft's operations if water scarcity becomes a more pressing issue as Microsoft relies heavily on water usage (Microsoft CDP Report Water, 2016). Hence, the natural environment is added to Microsoft's list of stakeholders. In the table below a summarization of the assessment of Microsoft's stakeholders can be found. The full assessment results can be found in appendix 1.

Several interesting findings arise from the stakeholder assessment. Firstly, a lack of action on behalf of Microsoft will not result in any short-term consequences for most of the stakeholders (except for communities and the natural environment). However, the consequences for Microsoft in terms of stakeholder relationships if they are to fail to achieve their strategy are assumed to be relatively much more severe. This can be explained by the discrepancy between the direct effects of a single organization (large as it may be) on climate change and the pressure on large emitters to become more sustainable corporations.

Furthermore, the most salient stakeholders for Microsoft in its carbon neutrality strategy are its customers, investors, employees, civil society/NGOs, communities, and the natural environment. While the natural environment cannot be communicated with, environmental NGOs can generally be regarded as spokespersons that advocate the importance of environmental sustainability. As such, civil society/NGOs play an important role in Microsoft's carbon neutrality strategy and consequently should be communicated with intensely.

Stakeholder

Power

Legitimacy

Urgency

Overall salience

Customers

High

Medium

Medium

Medium / high

Investors

High

Medium

Low

Medium

Employees

Medium / high

Medium / high

Medium

Medium / high

Suppliers

Medium

Low / medium

Low

Low / medium

Civil society/NGOs

Low / medium

Medium / high

High

Medium / high

Communities

Low / medium

High

High

Medium / high

Industry coalitions and public/private partnerships

Low

Low

Low

Low

Policymakers

Low

Low / medium

Low / medium

Low / medium

Natural environment

Low

High

Medium / high

Medium / high

Table 1: Results stakeholder assessment

 

4. Communication Strategy

As discussed in the previous section, Microsoft's striving for carbon neutrality can be seen as the foundation for its sustainability strategy. But how is this communicated to the stakeholders outlined in the previous section? Different stakeholders generally have different interests and consequently require different types of information (Cornelissen, 2017). In order to analyze Microsoft's communication strategy, a review of Microsoft's external documents, its social media accounts, and a media analysis were performed. Firstly, Microsoft's use of different communication channels is outlined. Subsequently, a further analysis of Microsoft's communication strategy will be outlined by looking at the different steps of devising a communication strategy to uncover Microsoft's probable reasoning behind the division of its communication strategy, after which the vision-culture-image toolkit (Hatch & Schultz, 2003) will be used to uncover where the inconsistencies in Microsoft's current communication strategy lie. The results can be found below.

Communication channels

Microsoft communicates its carbon neutrality strategy through several communication channels: Its external reports that are specifically dedicated to explaining its carbon neutrality strategy (Microsoft Becoming Carbon Neutral, 2012; Microsoft Beyond Carbon Neutral, 2015; Microsoft Carbon Fee Guide, 2013), through its corporate website (Microsoft website, 2017), its corporate blog (Microsoft blog, 2017), and by reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project (Microsoft Carbon Disclosure Project, 2017). The commonality between these resources are that all of them are one-way symmetrical manners of communication (Cornelissen, 2017), which corresponds to an informational communication strategy (ibid.). Furthermore, all these methods of communication are lacking in richness. In other words, there's a lack of opportunity for direct dialogue through these communication methods. Aside from a lack of dialogue, there are some other major downsides to this approach. For one, these methods of communication are not specifically tailored to any stakeholder group, even though stakeholder groups often have different needs in terms of what they regard as relevant information (Cornelissen, 2017). This is surprising, as in other aspects of their sustainability strategy, Microsoft heavily engages in dialogue and collaboration with all its different stakeholders (Microsoft 2015 Citizenship Report). Another related disadvantage is that some stakeholder groups are less inclined to read official reports by corporations and should be communicated with in different ways about sustainability than merely through reports (Lydenberg, 2010). Microsoft's carbon neutrality strategy's complete abstinence from any type social media presence is a glaring example of a missed opportunity to communicate its carbon neutrality strategy to customers. Furthermore, there is not any mention of Microsoft's overall CSR strategy on any website except for the international website. The Dutch Microsoft website, for example, omits CSR in general and carbon neutrality in particular from the information provided on the website.

Strategic intent

The strategic intent of a communication strategy is formed by asserting the discrepancy between a firm's current reputation and its intended reputation. (Cornelissen, 2017). In determining this gap, the vision and reputation of Microsoft before launching its carbon neutrality as well as after the launch of the carbon fee initiative needs to be understood. Therefore, the context behind this decision is reviewed below.

Under former CEO Steve Ballmer (2000-2013), Microsoft's reputation on and strategy towards sustainability was of a much lower level than it is today (Greenpeace Clicking Green Website, 2017). Microsoft was seen as being ‘stuck in the past' while new innovative competitors such as Google and Apple emerged (Bowers, 2013). In addition, critics stated Ballmer had no innovative vision, placing Microsoft in a dangerous strategic position (Bowers, 2013). Increased pressure to change the company's reputation, a focus on sustainability and innovation formed the strategic intent on how sustainability was contemporarily communicated throughout the organization as a method of regaining its old dominant market position as a technological conglomerate. As such, Microsoft embarked on a new strategy to integrate sustainability more throughout its organization.

With the appointment of a new CEO, Satya Nadella, the mission statement as well as the vision of Microsoft changed towards a more integrated sustainability approach, as every person, organization as well as the planet are stated to be empowered (Microsoft, 2017). Furthermore, a clear vision on environment in which Microsoft envisions itself as an environmental leader reveals how the strategic intent of Microsoft has changed the company's current intended reputation (Microsoft, 2017).

Themed messages

In the previous section, several examples of themed messages were already mentioned: since embarking on its more sustainability-related strategy, Microsoft has reinforced its intentions through a more sustainability-centered approach to corporate communications. Examples of themed messages are Microsoft aforementioned mission to empower every person, every organization, and the planet. The publication of its carbon neutrality reports affirms Microsoft's intentions of making carbon neutrality the centerpiece of its sustainability strategy and highlight the strides Microsoft has made in this regard (Microsoft Becoming Carbon Neutral, 2012; Microsoft Beyond Carbon Neutral, 2015; Microsoft Carbon Fee Guide, 2013). Furthermore, Microsoft's reporting practices to the Carbon Disclosure Project imply its intentions to become more transparent about its sustainability practices and its willingness to report through previously unused communication channels. Its ever increasing scores (from 78 in 2010 to 99 from 2015 onwards; CDP, 2017) indicate that the strategy itself is improving in terms of impact and effectiveness. What is interesting to note in regards to themed messages is that, while Microsoft uses many themed messages related to sustainability in its reports, several reports omit Microsoft's alleged central theme of carbon neutrality (e.g. in its annual report; Microsoft 2016 Annual Report, 2017) and is therefore inconsistent in terms of the themes used to communicate its sustainability strategy.

Message styles

Microsoft uses several different message styles to communicate its strategic intent. Through issue framing, Microsoft identifies different aspects of its own focus on sustainability. Looking at the message style, Microsoft uses a symbolic association message style in which pictures and symbols such as an earth footprint, a globe and green leafs are portrayed (Microsoft Website, 2017). Although this message style might directly make stakeholders aware of Microsoft's involvement with sustainability, the symbols Microsoft use will not distinguish Microsoft from competitors as the symbols are not company-specific and are widely used in sustainability communication practices across industries.

In addition to the largely symbolic messaging style on its official website, Microsoft uses a rational message style to introduce and support its carbon neutral policy within several official published documents. By explaining how Microsoft is ‘becoming lean, green, and accountable' (Microsoft, 2013) next to ‘the what, why, and how of Microsoft's efforts to drive culture change going beyond carbon neutrality' (Microsoft, 2013), Microsoft is identifying important competitive differences while simultaneously emphasizing its own superior position on sustainability within the market. In sum, Microsoft thus mostly uses a symbolic association and a rational message style.

Vision-culture-image model

In order to assess whether there are any gaps in Microsoft's current communication strategy, the vision-culture-image model (Schultz & Hatch, 2003) will be utilized. As Microsoft's vision (or strategic intent) was already outlined above, this section will provide an assessment of how well this vision is aligned with both culture and image.

Culture

Microsoft's vision, as explained above, aims to mainstream sustainability throughout the organization through its carbon neutrality and carbon fee initiatives. This strategic intent is designed by the Microsoft's top management and the idea is that this vision is communicated through the lower management levels and is eventually embodied by all employees (Microsoft Carbon Fee Guide, 2013). However, due to the internal nature of this communication (and the apparent lack of external communication thereof), it is difficult to examine Microsoft's communication structures and messages that are used to communicate the strategic intent to all employees. However, it appears as though Microsoft wants to adjust its culture throughout the organization by incentivizing its employees to emit less Co2 through its carbon fee in a top-down manner, which would correspond to the ‘tell-and-sell' approach (Cornelissen).

An analysis of online news platforms for any public information on a vision/culture clash was performed, assuming that a significant clash would be covered somewhere in the news, but nothing was found. Therefore we cannot identify any kind of a potential vision-culture gap. Since the carbon tax was introduced in 2012, and because of Microsoft's strides in its sustainability strategy (Greenpeace Clicking Green, 2017), we assume that the strategic intent has become embedded in the organization by its employees. Nevertheless, there is naturally still a possibility that there is still a minor vision-culture gap within Microsoft, although as Microsoft progresses its strategy, this gap will become ever smaller as the strategy becomes more and more embedded in the entire organization.

Image

Since there appears to be an alignment between vision and culture, any discrepancy between image and vision automatically means that there is a similar gap between culture and image. In the previous section on communication channels, it was already uncovered that Microsoft uses a very uniform approach to stakeholder engagement in relation to its carbon neutrality strategy, with several reports, corporate blog posts, the corporate website, and the Carbon Disclosure Project being the only internal communication channels that acknowledge the importance of carbon neutrality to Microsoft's overall corporate strategy (Microsoft Becoming Carbon Neutral, 2012; Microsoft Beyond Carbon Neutral, 2015). Externally, Microsoft has received some aid in the form of the media, who is generally highly laudable of Microsoft's efforts towards carbon neutrality and its voluntary use of an internal carbon fee. According to Forbes, Microsoft has one of the best CSR reputations in its industry (Forbes, 2016). In addition, the UN has labeled Microsoft's carbon fee initiative a ‘shining example of corporate climate action' (UNFCCC, 2017). These accolades from credible sources likely push Microsoft's image towards its vision, but as was pointed out in the section on communication channels, there are still many missed opportunities to further enhance its image. Several examples include Microsoft's lack of social media activity that promotes its carbon neutrality strategy and communication channels tailored to individual stakeholder groups on its strategy.

Furthermore, despite the recognition of Microsoft's sustainability efforts by Forbes and the UNFCCC, there is no absolute consensus on Microsoft's sustainability image. RankaBrand, the Dutch sustainability ranking company, rates Microsoft's sustainability practices with a “D”, which implies that Microsoft is far behind on industry leader like Apple in terms of corporate sustainability communication (RankABrand, 2017). The RankaBrand score reveals that the company could not be scored on a lot of indicators because of the unavailability of information as was similarly pointed out in the above section on communication channels. No information could be found on 26 out of the 39 communication performance indicators that RankaBrand uses (RankaBrand, 2017). This could indicate that Microsoft's low sustainability communication score, and potentially even its general reputation, is not per se a result of its sustainability efforts, but more of its communication strategy.

Conclusion

Although Microsoft acknowledges that its most important facets of its sustainability strategy is its goal to become carbon neutral (and beyond – Microsoft beyond carbon neutral, 2015), an assessment of its external communications reveals that Microsoft lacks consistency in how it engages its numerous stakeholders to communicate this goal, as Microsoft's communication channels of choice are unlikely to reach all important stakeholder groups (such as for example its customers). On the other hand, Microsoft's uniform method of communicating its carbon neutrality effort solely through one-way symmetrical manners is also unlikely to provide relevant information for individual stakeholder groups. As such, our analysis has revealed several potential gaps in Microsoft's approach to communicating its sustainability strategy. The implications of these apparent gaps in Microsoft's communication strategy are that stakeholder groups become misinformed or unengaged when it comes to Microsoft's carbon neutrality strategy. In other words, Microsoft could potentially experience an image-vision gap. It is of great importance for the effectiveness of Microsoft carbon neutrality strategy that this gap be minimized, which is what are recommendations attempt to accomplish in the following section.

5. Recommendations

Microsoft is well underway in its ambitions to become a sustainable IT leader. In order to utilize their efforts in regards to carbon neutrality however, they have to overcome several challenges. This report showed that their main challenge can be identified as the gap between their image on the one hand, and their vision and culture on the other. Overcoming that gap should be a number one priority, given the future developments and increased footprint that the IT industry and Microsoft in specific will have to face. Microsoft should attempt to avert any chance of coming under public scrutiny, as one of the most iconic IT leaders around for decades. Microsoft could easily become ‘the Shell' of the IT industry, if the industry will come to account for a substantial part of the earth's emissions.  

Since Microsoft has already grown major invested interest in becoming carbon neutral, now is the time to make those efforts to become incorporated in their image. Their objective should therefore quite simply be to close the gap between their image on the one hand, and their culture and vision on the other.

How might a tech giant like Microsoft give shape to such a quest? Foremost, this report identified that stakeholders should not be approached as completely similar to one another. Given the fact that Microsoft's communication efforts regarding carbon neutrality, mostly relate to partners, shareholders, and suppliers, and not properly to their customers, this implies that this stakeholder group in specific offers room for communication opportunities. Thus, the communication efforts should be differentiated per stakeholder, and the consumers should at this point be targeted as first priority in that effort. The customer's perception about Microsoft and its link to carbon neutrality shows a potentially significant gap with Microsoft's vision and culture. Customers therefore have to be involved more extensively in Microsoft's efforts and considerations in regard to carbon neutrality communication.

Customer involvement can come about in many different ways. In this report, several shortcomings were shown in the communication efforts towards the customer. Hence, several recommendations can be made to tackle those specific points of improvement. These shortcomings are not as marginal and specific as one might expect from a company of such magnitude and entail rather commonsensical ideas. The first shortcoming for example, is that there is practically no easy to gather and grasp information available on the internet about their carbon neutrality project. Only the US corporate website provides information, and no recent or substantial social media efforts can be found on this subject. The first priority in their communication proceedings should therefor simply be to provide information about their initiatives related to sustainability. One valuable source of information, namely the ‘eco profiles (where an analysis of Co2 emissions, scarce resource usage, etc. is presented)' of all their products, are available on their website, but this information can more easily be communicated to customers that buy Microsoft hardware products.

Secondly, Microsoft has to properly take advantage of the vast amount of communication channels and reach they have access to. The information they want to spread around, should for example not only be easily accessible on their website (and probably on a dedicated website also), but should also be actively spread throughout their customer base. One clear communication channel that needs invested effort, is their social media profiles. This could either be on the Microsoft main channels, or on dedicated Microsoft Sustainability accounts, depending on their overall communication strategy. In addition, Microsoft can, like no other, utilize their extensive presence in their customers' lives due to the nature of their products. Not only can Microsoft better brand their actual physical products (boxing, bags, stickers) and provide information through those expressions, but they also have a major digital presence in the intimate social space. Not to say that those channels should be flooded with marketing efforts, but Microsoft inherently does frame and provide information through those channels. Therefore, it is partly a matter of choice, framing and branding in regard to communication efforts about carbon neutrality. One such an example is their take on innovation. Microsoft often is eager to claim and promote their innovativeness. These brand expressions can for example easily be tweaked to fit in their carbon neutrality efforts.

As argued, it is key for Microsoft's future image and existence to claim their role as sustainability leader in their industry through its carbon neutrality strategy. The time to make that claim is now, since the industry\'s image as a whole could easily take a darker turn in the years ahead, with the expected explosive growth of the industry (Greenpeace Clicking Green, 2017). However, in order to make these communication efforts and sustainability claims worthwhile, one fundamental realization has to be considered. Although Microsoft has proven to make serious commitment and invested efforts into sustainability and carbon neutrality, their endeavors have yet to be truly incorporated and become deeply rooted in the company's communication practices. Their claim of being carbon neutral should be put in perspective of the actual proceedings by which Microsoft says to achieve that goal. Given the importance of transparency for a technological conglomerate like Microsoft, these sources of information are all available to the public. Microsoft should expect more critical and demanding interests in Microsoft's actual carbon efforts, if it chooses to utilize their carbon neutrality claims in their communication strategy. Hence, Microsoft should aim to make their Carbon Neutrality be of more substance and ready to conquer critics' skepticism.  

References

Bowers, 2013

Cornellisen, 2017

DiCaprio, 2016

(Forbes, 2016)

Greenpeace (2017)

Greenpeace Clicking Green Website, 2017

Hatch & Schultz, 2003

Lydenberg, 2010

Microsoft Becoming Carbon Neutral, 2012

Microsoft, 2013

Microsoft Beyond Carbon Neutral, 2015

Microsoft Carbon Fee Guide, 2013

Microsoft Carbon Fee Guide, 2015

Microsoft 2015 Citizenship Report, 2016

Microsoft 2016 Annual Report, 2017

Microsoft CDP Report Water, 2016).

Microsoft website, 2017)

Microsoft Carbon Disclosure Project, 2017

Mitchell et al., 1997

RankABrand, 2017

Statista, 2017)

UNFCCC, 2017

Appendices

Figure 1.. Overview of revenue per business segment

Source: (Statista, 2017)

D: Table 1. Microsoft's total revenue from sales per fiscal year

Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Sales/Revenue

73,75B

77.65B

86.73B

92.97B

84.7B

Sales Growth

-

+5,29%

+11.69%

+7.20%

-8,90%

Figure x. Benchmarking industry performance in terms of renewable energy

Source: (Greenpeace, 2017)

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