Interop: Microsoft Goes Green With Efficient Code, Employee Bus Line

Microsoft plans to work more closely with independent software developers to help them build applications that don't draw CPU cycles unnecessarily.
Microsoft is rolling out several initiatives through which it hopes to turn green -- and none of them involves CEO Steve Ballmer looking at Apple's most recent sales numbers.

The software maker in recent months has launched numerous projects that are meant to help reduce its own energy footprint, and the world's. "This is a deliberate effort at our board level," said Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, speaking Monday at the Interop tech conference in Las Vegas.

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The software maker's efforts to cut its carbon footprint extend from technology to its business practices.

On the tech front, the company's Windows Vista operating system includes energy management features that are superior to those found in the older Windows XP, according to Bernard. Among them: a feature that, after a set period, puts Vista to sleep instead of activating an energy-consuming screen saver.

All told, Microsoft introduced 35 new energy management features in Vista, Bernard said.

Microsoft also plans to work more closely with independent software developers to help them build applications that don't draw CPU cycles unnecessarily, said Bernard. "Green code is efficient code," said Bernard.

In terms of business practices, Microsoft now factors ecological considerations into a broad range of operational decisions. For instance, the company deliberately opted to build a data center at a location in Quincy, Wash., "because it was three power poles away from a hydroelectric dam," said Bernard.

Microsoft also operates a bus service for its employees in the Seattle so they don't have to drive to work. Bernard said that the service is used regularly by 65% of Microsoft workers based in the area. The program's ultimate goal is "to take a quarter-million car miles off the road in Seattle," said Bernard.

Microsoft has also hired a full-time employee to measure the ecological impact of conferences it holds in cities such as Seattle, Orlando, and Las Vegas.

Microsoft's energy conservation efforts go beyond its own operations. The company recently struck a deal to provide President Bill Clinton's Clinton Foundation with online software and tools that will enable cities around the world to consistently monitor and measure their carbon emissions.

The effort is meant to tackle a problem that hinders efforts to coordinate international carbon reduction programs -- getting consistent data. "You need a universal algorithm in order to obtain comparable footprint measurements," said Bernard.

Microsoft hopes its proactive efforts to go green will put it ahead of more stringent government conservation regulations that Bernard said are coming.

"Just like you're asked to account for so many other aspects of your business, you're going to be asked to account for your energy impact," said Bernard.