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Microsoft Exec Says We Need More Climate-Smart Workers

The future is sustainability focused, but companies may not have the talent to address those challenges, according to a top Microsoft executive.

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A Microsoft logo is displayed at the MWC (Mobile World Congress) in Barcelona on March 2, 2022.
A Microsoft logo is displayed at the MWC (Mobile World Congress) in Barcelona on March 2, 2022.
Photo: JOSEP LAGO/AFP (Getty Images)

Microsoft president and vice chair Brad Smith wants thousands of companies to shift from pledging to help solve climate challenges to actually making good on those promises. These companies can’t rise to meet the challenge unless their workers are trained in sustainability, he wrote in a company statement this week.

“Employers must move quickly to upskill their workforce through learning initiatives focused on sustainability knowledge and skills,” Smith wrote. “This will require support from a variety of learning partners, including educational institutions, vocational education providers, apprenticeship programs and online training providers.”

The statement accompanied a report released this week that highlighted the need for workers who are prepared to address climate change. Microsoft partnered with Boston Consulting Group to compile the data for the report. They surveyed 250 employees at 15 companies, including Microsoft, and found that companies sourced 68% of their sustainability workers internally. “60% of sustainability team members joined without expertise in the field,” the report noted.


“In the history of civilization, few generations have needed to do as much in as little time as we must do now. At its most fundamental level, this is the single greatest challenge and opportunity of our time,” Smith said in the report’s forward.

And Smith isn’t wrong: Time is running short. According to an IPCC report released earlier this year, the world has about three years to significantly curb emissions in order to limit emissions to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). An IPCC report from last year called this decade a critical one for developing solutions, retiring fossil fuel dependence, and rapidly decarbonizing our grids and economies.


However, the internal hire route takes years. The report described a Microsoft worker who had a 30-year career at the company, beginning in a customer service and support role and eventually landing a leadership position on a sustainability team. The report suggests investing in all levels of employees to prepare them for creating and developing a range of solutions for addressing climate change.

In the report’s forward, Smith wrote that Microsoft would offer its support to companies dedicated to developing skills and recruiting sustainability experts to meet their climate pledges. Microsoft also plans to partner with INCO Academy, a company that offers online courses, on a Green Digital Skills course. “We all need to work together to develop a shared understanding, based on better data, regarding evolving jobs and the sustainability knowledge and skills needed for them,” Smith wrote.