CityNext - Managed Solution

Collaborating with Cities for Sustainability

As written on
Throughout the week here on our blog, we’ve highlighted many ways that Microsoft is working—through our staff and with our business and nonprofit partners around the world—to bring our tools and technology to bear in addressing some of the most pressing global challenges, such as increasing access to clean and affordable water, food and energy for people around the world.
Nowhere are those challenges more acute than in the world’s cities, where increasing population is placing a greater strain on limited economic and environmental resources and forcing cities to operate with greater and greater efficiency. It is forecasted that by 2050 more than 6 billion people, about 70 percent of the global population, will live in urban areas.
At Microsoft, we know that efficiency drives sustainability, and that by working closely with cities and partners we can develop technology-driven solutions to help communities cope with increasing strains on their resources. A few years ago, I was fortunate to work on our CityNext program—a program designed to help cities better manage their infrastructure. Through CityNext, our company has helped local communities cut costs and reduce their environmental impact by optimizing their city operations and transforming their management of key resources.
In Washington state, for example, Microsoft worked with Accenture and the City of Seattle to equip buildings with smart systems that helped improve energy conservation. Through the use of sensors and cloud technology, public buildings send energy consumption data to cloud-based reporting portals, allowing building managers to more easily monitor energy use, identify potential waste and make educated adjustments to improve energy efficiency. It’s a broader application of the same technology solution Microsoft developed to manage its own energy use at our 88-acre campus in Redmond, Washington.
In Finland, Microsoft worked with the City of Helsinki bus team and our tech partner CGI to develop a smarter transit system. We utilized the city’s existing warehouse systems to create a cloud-based solution for the collection and analysis of travel data. The city was then able to leverage this data to reduce its fuel costs and consumption, increase travel safety, and improve driver performance. These efforts also helped the city’s bus system compete for riders in a market already crowded with private vendors because of its enhanced efficiency.
In addition, in China Microsoft Research Lab Asia created a mapping tool called Urban Air that allows users to see, and even predict, air quality levels across 72 cities in China. The tool leverages big data and machine learning to provide real-time, detailed air quality information, to help inform local decision-making by both residents and governments. Citizens can easily check outdoor conditions via a mobile app that is used about three million times per day. And governments can use the data to figure out where traffic or factory production is causing the most pollution, and then take steps to help mitigate it.
Our work with cities and local communities continues to evolve as new opportunities arise. As we wrap up Earth Week here on Microsoft Green, we want to highlight a few recent examples of how our company and its employees are supporting local sustainability efforts in cities such as Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.

In Chicago, Microsoft is helping the city design new ways to gather data and properly utilize predictive analytics in order to better address water, infrastructure, energy, and transportation challenges. Last fall, City Digital kicked off a pilot program to create an underground infrastructure mapping (UIM) platform that generates, organizes, visualizes, and stores 3D underground infrastructure data to help inform city planning.

In Boston, Microsoft is working to help spread information about the variety of urban farming programs in Boston, and the potential of AI and other technology to increase their impact. Microsoft’s Aimee Sprung is a member the Board of Overseers at Boston’s Museum of Science and recently spoke on a panel about “The Future of Your Food.”

San Francisco
In the Bay Area, Microsoft is working closely with our partner Athena Intelligence to use their data processing and visualization platform to gather valuable data about land, food, water and energy in order to improve local decision-making.


Sustainable success: zero-waste manufacturer grows business with Windows 10

When Megan and Marshall Dostal started making glycerin-based soap from recycled cooking oil, they thought they might have a niche business. By believing in their product and playing to each other’s strengths, they built a successful and sustainable company called Further Products. Now, Further Products uses Windows 10 and Surface Pro 4 devices to help it stay connected, impress customers, grow the business—and make the world a little healthier.

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Megan and Marshall Dostal want to live their lives more or less like everybody else. They just want to use fewer natural resources and generate less waste. An earnest and dynamic couple from South Pasadena, California, the Dostals have turned that perfectly healthy impulse into a successful, innovative business they call Further Products. The company recycles used cooking oil to make sustainable glycerin-based personal care and cleaning products.
In 2008, to run their used Mercedes-Benz, Marshall Dostal started making biofuel in the couple’s garage from waste cooking oil. The process produces glycerin as a byproduct, so Marshall learned how to make it into soap. When they sold some at a trade show, the Dostals thought they might have a promising niche product. “Like something you might sell in the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show,” Marshall jokes.
But the Dostals believed in their idea and worked hard to create a great product that’s time may have come. Today, Further Products recycles waste oil from restaurants all over southern California to make biodiesel and glycerin. It uses the fuel in the company vehicles and purifies the glycerin to manufacture a full line of hand soap, lotion, fragrance oil, candles, and cleaning products that it sells to some of the best retailers, top restaurants, nicest hotels, and biggest property management firms in the country.
The Dostals use Windows 10 and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 devices to stay connected, impress customers, and grow their business. “When I show up for a sales call at a new restaurant, I’m that woman who makes soap from grease,” says Megan Dostal. “Then I bring out my Surface Pro to show them how Further Products will work for them, answer their questions on the spot, and prove to them that we are for real.”

Two people and a lot of moving parts

The Dostals did not know much about starting a business, so they just split the work according to each other’s strengths. Marshall manages production, supply chain, vendors, inventory, distribution, and billing. Megan works on product development, marketing, social media, and communication with customers.
“I'm either working at home or on the go, and Marshall is at the warehouse,” says Megan. “We need high-level technology that is simple to use and helps us stay connected with each other all day.”
In 2015, the Dostals began working with two Surface Pro 4 devices running Windows 10 and two subscriptions for Microsoft Office 365. They both use the tools in Windows 10 and Office 365 to schedule meetings and tasks, create presentations, keep notes, manage business processes, and touch base with each other from anywhere on almost any device. They both like the versatility of the Surface Pro device with detachable keyboard, touchscreen, and Surface Pen.

The best world

Marshall had always used Macs, but he made a seamless transition to Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10. “In laptop mode, Surface Pro has the power and the programs I need, and in tablet mode, I can take it into the warehouse and start counting inventory,” says Marshall. “It’s the best of both worlds, and I’m not tied to my desk.”
If Megan is giving a presentation and doesn’t have a ready answer, she will often send Marshall a quick email or instant message. “He usually responds with a PowerPoint slide or an Excel spreadsheet that I can add quickly to the presentation,” she says. “I love it.”
Megan and Marshall use the Microsoft Edge web browser to research online, download information, or access social media. With just a touch, Megan sets Sticky Note reminders to stay on top of calls and meetings, and the Cortana digital assistant talks her through her busy day. She can use the Surface Pen to write on the tablet screen or actually mark webpages with the inking feature. She also likes Windows Hello facial recognition because it makes signing in to her device fast and easy, and it impresses customers.
“Windows 10 saves me time all day,” she says. “I can toggle between the four different things that I'm constantly doing at the same time, and I like to know that only I can open it.”

How to fuel success and support growth

When Megan and Marshall chose Windows 10 and Surface devices, they introduced portability, mobility, and easy remote collaboration to their already effective working relationship,
“Windows 10 helps us combine our different skill sets and streamline everything we do,” says Marshall.
With the mobility and versatility of their Surface devices, Megan and Marshall can work with and build relationships with a network of vendors, restaurants, and other local businesses. That helps Further Products maintain quality and consistency and helps the Dostals keep up with their growing business.
“I just grab my Surface and I’m on my way with everything I need for that next meeting,” says Megan.
The Dostals like to say that biodiesel fuels their vehicles, glycerin fuels their product line, and Windows 10 fuels their business. “Further Products offers a beautiful personal care experience that people can feel good about,” says Megan. “With Windows 10, we can be authentic, and still responsive enough that our customers know we don’t cut corners to run our business.”
As Further Products has grown from small eco stores to fashionable boutiques, famous restaurants, hotels, and major office buildings, the Dostals have noticed that sustainability is no longer on the fringe. “People almost expect sustainability now, and the more awareness grows, the bigger Further Products gets,” says Megan. “And when a restaurant, hotel, or other business puts a Further Products sign in its bathrooms, our zero-waste story becomes their story.”
“We are proof that you can turn any idea into a big idea,” adds Marshall, “if you don’t compromise on your product—or your technology. As Further Products continues to grow, Windows 10 will be with us every step of the way.”
Read the full case study here.


rob-bernard-four-green-tech-predictionsFour Green Tech Predictions for 2017

Written by Rob Bernard as seen on
The end of the calendar year is a traditional time of reflection, of the ups and downs of the past year, and to think about what to expect in 2017. As Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist, I am encouraged by the progress made on some environmental issues in the past year, but there is still much work to be done. Despite the increasing urgency around many environmental issues, I remain optimistic about the future.
Perhaps the most notable breakthrough this past year was that the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force. Cities, countries and companies around the world are now focusing their efforts on how to set and execute their plans to reduce carbon emissions. We also saw growth in corporate procurement of renewable energy in 2016, both in the U.S. and around the globe, another encouraging sign. At Microsoft, we put forth our own goal to source 50% of our datacenter electricity from wind, solar and hydropower. At the end of this year, we’re happy to report that we are on pace to not only meet our goal, but also are creating new financial and technology models that can further accelerate the pace of the adoption of renewable energy.
As we look towards 2017, I expect that we will see both continued progress on energy and an increasing focus on non-energy areas. As we at Microsoft think about 2017, I think we expect to see some shifts in approaches and investments happening across the world.

1. IoT and Cloud Computing will begin to transform utility energy management:

Aging infrastructure is already under pressure and the addition of more renewable energy will only compound the stress on existing infrastructure. As more clean energy comes online, along with distributed resources like electric vehicles and rooftop solar, utilities are facing a big challenge – how to manage a more complex network of energy creating and energy storing devices.  2017 will see an increased investment by utilities in technology to leverage data, through IoT solutions and cloud computing, to make energy management more predictable, flexible and efficient.
In developing nations, we are seeing a different trend, but one that is also accelerated by IoT and cloud computing. In these markets, data is being used to accelerate distribution, sales and management of micro-solar grids to enable households to get both power and connectivity to the internet. 2017 should be an exciting year with even more growth as capital investments in these markets increase and solar and battery storage prices decline.

2. Water will begin to emerge as the next critical world-scale environmental challenge

Water scarcity is increasing in many areas around the world. Our oceans are under threat from pollution, acidification and warming temperatures. We are already seeing the devastating effects on iconic landmarks like the Great Barrier Reef. And these trends are putting peoples’ food, water, and livelihoods at risk. In 2017, awareness on this challenge will increase. We will begin to better understand what is happening to our water through the use of sensors and cloud computing. Our ability to leverage technologies like advanced mapping technologies and sensors will increase and expand our understanding of what is driving the decline of many of our critical water systems.

3. Data will increasingly be used to try to better understand our planet

Data is essential for monitoring and managing the earth’s resources and fragile ecosystems. There is much we do not understand about the planet, but we see an increasing number of companies and investments flowing toward developing tools and platforms that enable better mapping and understanding of earth’s carbon storage and air borne gasses, and ecosystems and the associated value they provide. We expect to see data being applied more proactively to create a more actionable understanding of how we can better manage food, water, biodiversity and climate change.

4. Organizations and policy makers will start leveraging cloud-based technologies

This area is perhaps the most difficult to try to predict. While countries will begin implementing their action plans under the Paris Agreement, it is not easy to predict the methods each country will use and prioritize to make progress against commitments under the Paris Agreement. And the changes will happen not just at the national level. Increasingly we will see cities and local governments moving ahead with technology implementation to drive efficiencies and accountability, along with policy changes as well. We’re already leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to better model and understand the potential impact of legislative changes, in addition to offering our technologies to our public sector partners as they work towards their plans. While this will likely take several years to take hold, 2017 should see an increased awareness for the role of technology in environmental policy
While there are many challenges ahead across so many areas of sustainability, I remain optimistic.  The number of people and organizations that are focusing on these and many other areas of sustainability ensure that we will continue to make progress in 2017.  At Microsoft, we are committed to working with our customers and partners to help them achieve more through the use of our technologies. Everyone – companies, countries, individuals – have much work to do. We believe that by working together, we can help develop effective solutions to address environmental challenges that will benefit our business, our customers and the planet. And we are up to the challenge.


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Alex Eaton: Helping small farmers turn animal waste into clean energy

By Vanessa Ho as written on
When Alex Eaton started his company in Mexico to help small farmers, his timing couldn’t have been worse. It was 2010, the global economy was fragile, Mexico’s drug war was peaking and swine flu was pandemic.
Then there was Eaton’s challenge of introducing new technology – a system that turns animal waste into clean energy – to old-school farmers. His company was lean, with employees building the system in a cramped garage at night and selling it directly to farmers by day. They traveled on cheap “chicken buses,” which sometimes also carried livestock.
“I slept on a lot of farmers’ dirt floors,” says Eaton. “In terms of challenges, we certainly did not have any shortages. It was a radical, bootstrapping operation, and it made us stronger as a company, because we generated a culture in which you wouldn’t have worked for us if you weren’t passionate.”
Six years later, Eaton’s company, Sistema Biobolsa, has become a thriving business with a global mission in environmental sustainability and social justice. It has installed more than 3,000 of its digester systems, which now serve 20,000 people in Mexico, Central America, South America and Africa.

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“We want small farmers to grow, improve their productivity and efficiency, and grow into the important and sustainable food producers that they can be,” Eaton says.
With the help of Microsoft tools for productivity and collaboration, the company boosts local economies by enabling farmers to turn cow and pig waste into biogas that fuels stoves and other equipment. Sistema Biobolsa’s affordable, scalable digesters also help produce an organic, nutrient-rich manure, so farmers don’t have to buy chemical fertilizers and can further save money.
“A huge disadvantage of being a small farmer today is you live in an environment filled with flies and horrible odor,” with animal waste contaminating rivers, lakes and watersheds, says Eaton, who grew up on a small farm in New Hampshire. “We take that waste and turn it into a clean, renewable energy source.”
All features of the digester — a durable-membrane bag in which microorganisms break down waste anaerobically — are designed to serve farmers. Black membrane absorbs heat for faster composting and efficient piping makes the system easy to use. The company’s microfinancing program, run in partnership with nonprofit Kiva, allows farmers to easily invest in the system with a no-interest loan. For many farmers, it’s the first time they’ve had access to credit, helping them grow and diversify their business.


“We have been saving a lot of money with this Sistema Biobolsa,” says Herles Cortez, a pig farmer in Puebla, Mexico, who installed a digester about 18 months ago. “We buy very little gas for the business anymore. Before, gas was a big expense for us.”
He says the system produces enough gas to fuel the family’s stove as well as a barn heater that keeps the piglets warm at night, leading to healthier animals. His farm is also more pleasant with less odor. “Take a look around now; there are no flies. It’s cleaner now,” he says, showing his farm recently to visitors.
As Sistema Biobolsa grows, its team of 30 employees relies on Skype to collaborate across four offices in Mexico and Nicaragua and with hundreds of installers and promoters around the world. Skype has helped the company install digesters in remote areas, from the Andean region in South America to pilot programs in Ghana, Nigeria and Madagascar. The company is also developing new pilot programs in East Africa and India.
“With collaborators all around the world, we use Skype over regular landlines,” says Eaton, a longtime Skype user. “This is completely non-negotiable for us. Being able to put together a number of people virtually and seeing people online really makes the connections a lot more tangible.”
Windows 10 also powers new computers for field staffers, and Office 365 helps Eaton work on finances and communications wherever he is, whether in his office in Mexico City or on the road.
“We couldn’t live without Microsoft Office, so I have Word and Excel open at all times,” he says. The tools help him reach his goals of empowering small farmers to work sustainably and thrive financially.
He recalls how the company years ago had helped a small dairy farm in Mexico, run by a woman whose husband had left to work in the U.S. and send money home.
When the struggling farm started using a digester, its 10 cows began creating gas that fueled a pasteurizing machine. That allowed the family to sell pasteurized milk and yogurt, make more money and buy more cows.
“It was an incredible transformation of a typical Mexican farm, which was essentially in a death spiral and being abandoned. It started using modern technology, serving the community and helping the family get ahead,” Eaton says.
“As we continue to grow, it is exciting to think about the potential to create more stories like this at hundreds of thousands of small farms throughout Latin America.”


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