Thursday, December 9, 2010

Microsoft 2010 Citizenship Report - more clouds, less cloudy

My review of Microsoft's 2010 Citizenship Report was published this month in the December issue of Ethical Corporation Magazine. You can read the full review here (PDF) . As usual, I will share the (pre-edit) highlights.

" After years of being the bad boy of Corporate Responsibility, with a reputation for (unethical, and sometimes illegal) dominance of software markets and anti-competitive sales practices, and after being summarily kicked off the Nasdaq Global Sustainability Index in 2009 for inadequate and unsubstantiated environmental disclosures, it seems that Microsoft is now embracing accountability with new gusto and a 2010 Citizenship Report which is probably the boldest this ubiquitous company has issued. Microsoft confirms that this represents a "significant enhancement in our nonfinancial reporting" and despite late arrival at the party, the 2010 report is refreshingly welcome. In fact, Microsoft seems to have acquired a taste for transparency, producing a Citizenship Report (65 pages), a One Report GRI disclosure (352 pages), a dedicated UN Global Compact Communication on Progress (9 pages), a dedicated Millennium Development Goals Commitment paper (16 pages) and Carbon Disclosure Project Reporting. The cloudiness of Microsoft's disclosures to date now appear to have been largely replaced with clouds of a different kind - the ones which drive the Company's cloud computing strategy, a core element of Microsoft sustainability, which ironically, Microsoft covers less comprehensively in the 2010 Report .

Much of Microsoft's future business development is linked to cloud-based technologies. Steve Ballmer writes that this has "important implications for Microsoft's citizenship work", enabling access and rapid scaling up of technologies whilst opening up risks for privacy, safety and internet security. Environmentally, growth of cloud computing puts pressure on data centres and their energy consumption levels. Apparently, cloud computing will see the creation of 100,000 new companies and 1 million jobs in coming years, a development any software company cannot fail to ignore. Microsoft has been promoting the cloud as serious element in the company's support programmes for non-profits but admits to "hardly scratching the surface of what this could mean." 

By and large, not only greater transparency but improved structure and clarity characterize Microsoft reporting this time around. Whilst leaving us in no doubt about the scale of the Microsoft impact on the world economy and technology advancement (record $62Bn revenue in FY2010 and 89,000 employees in 100 countries leveraging the global Microsoft reseller/partnership network which itself employs 14.9 million people, representing 42% of the global IT workforce and generating over $500Bn revenue), the tone of this report is modest, factual and to the point.  "

Microsoft's report website is a pleasure to navigate and contains much more than the PDF summary. One smart  feature is Microsoft's Local Impact Map which takes you on a world tour of Microsoft's presence in countries and cities, offering both statistics about the local economy and digital development as well as the specific interventions and impacts of Microsoft at a very detailed level. It's wonderfully interactive and a pleasure to play with, whether or not you are interested in Microsoft and their activities. Some of the stories are quite entertaining. Take this one about Microsoft's Unlimited Potential community technology skills programme in Sri Lanka:  " When the local farmers from Embilipitiya showed up at Bimal Prasad's office, the eggplant samples they were carrying were not pretty. Covered in pockmarks left by an unknown pest, the vegetables were ruined and the farmet were desperate."  What possible relevance could this have to Microsoft's business? Read the rest of the story to get to the happy ending and learn about an aspect of Microsoft's business which most would not be aware of.

Whilst there are some areas which I suggested that could be tightened up in this years' Microsoft report, this is a major leap forward in professional and transparent reporting and is well worth looking at and learning from.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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