Which Of The Big Tech Cos Are Greenest?

Microsoft has set the most ambitious targets of any of the tech cos: to run entirely on renewable energy by 2025, to go carbon-negative by 2030, and to neutralize all past emissions dating back to 1975 by 2050.

Dear EarthTalk: Which of the big tech companies are considered the greenest now?

—B.P. via email

As global demand for sustainable practices intensifies, the race among major tech companies to adopt green practices has become highly competitive. Many tech giants, including Microsoft, Apple and Google are pursuing demanding sustainability goals.

Microsoft has set the most ambitious target: to run entirely on renewable energy by 2025, to go carbon-negative by 2030, and to neutralize all past emissions dating back to 1975 by 2050. Also, Microsoft has mandated its suppliers report their emissions since 2021 and has implemented a carbon tax on its supply chain. In May 2024, the company signed the largest corporate clean energy deal, purchasing 10.5 gigawatts of carbon-free power from Brookfield Renewable Partners. Microsoft already sources electricity from solar and wind farms across America, Europe and Asia.

Transparency distinguishes Microsoft from other major tech companies: It has openly invested in carbon offset projects, such as installing clean stovetops in Kenya and protecting Indonesian forests, and has supported renewable energy infrastructure, including backup generation for Wyoming solar grids and energy storage batteries in Ireland. In 2020, Microsoft founded the Climate Innovation Fund, investing $1 billion in over 35 companies developing climate technology solutions for underserved communities.

Apple differs in that it mainly makes physical products. Apple hopes to limit its annual carbon emissions to less than 10 million ‘unavoidable’ metric tons by 2030 and reach zero net emissions via carbon offsets and removal. In 2022, Apple’s carbon footprint was a staggering 22.5 million metric tons, 75 percent produced during manufacturing and 20 percent generated during product use and transportation.

Since production accounts for most of Apple’s emissions, the company has prioritized material and energy sourcing. The 2019 MacBook Air’s external enclosure is 100 percent recycled aluminum, reducing the product’s carbon footprint by nearly half. Also, Apple is developing more durable and energy-efficient products and powering its production lines, offices and data centers with clean energy. And Apple has many carbon offset/removal projects, mostly to protect and restore wetlands, grasslands and forests.

Google has striven to neutralize its carbon emissions since its founding in 1998, and aims to exceed carbon neutrality by becoming carbon-free by 2030. Its carbon-free plan includes three phases: offsetting, reducing and eliminating emissions. For two decades, Google has used “high-quality” carbon offsets and renewable energy. However, Google’s lack of clarity about what constitutes “high-quality” makes it difficult to verify their sustainability claims. Since 2017, Google has increased reliance on wind and solar power and hopes to power all facilities soon with locally sourced carbon-free electricity. Sun and wind energy can be unpredictable and insufficient for large-scale tech operations. To address this, Google collaborated with its subsidiary DeepMind to develop machine learning systems that forecast wind farm output up to 36 hours in advance and worked with local authorities to optimize solar panel placement.


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