Microsoft is investing in 520 acres of forest land next to Mount Rainier National Park – but not to turn it into another corporate campus.
The software giant is trying to offset its carbon emissions by buying carbon credits.
The infusion of software cash means softwoods along the Nisqually River won't be clear-cut: They'll be allowed to grow old and suck up carbon dioxide in the process.
The hemlocks and firs above the town of Ashford will also provide habitat for spotted owls and marbled murrelets.
The investment in the Nisqually Carbon Project is part of Microsoft's effort to eliminate its impact on the global climate. Microsoft has made company-wide efforts to reduce energy use, even imposing an internal carbon tax on its own operations.
For the past three years, Microsoft has claimed to be "carbon neutral."
"At this point, we think we're one of the few, if not the only company in the world, doing this at this scale," said Rob Bernard, who manages Microsoft's environmental programs.
Even so, as cloud computing grows more popular, Microsoft server farms use more and more electricity. And all those international business trips Microsoft employees make still burn jet fuel. So the company has taken to buying carbon offsets: Paying people elsewhere to keep heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the air.
California has set the bar for making sure that such carbon offsets actually work. Under the state’s "cap and trade" system, major polluters have to reduce their emissions by law. If they can't do that below a certain level, they can buy credits to support projects that reduce pollution somewhere else.
Paula Swedeen with the Washington Environmental Council says the Nisqually project is the first in the Northwest to pass muster under California's strict standards.
"The credits that Microsoft is buying represent real emission reductions," Swedeen said.
Swedeen says the Nisqually project will prevent as much pollution as taking 6,000 cars off the road for a year.
She said the project is using "California's protocol because of the rigor. We didn't want anybody questioning the integrity of the projects that we are involved in."
Redmond-based Microsoft's purchase of carbon offsets is entirely voluntary. The company says it has purchased enough of them, from projects all around the world, to offset all the carbon dioxide emitted every day by the company's offices, server farms and business travelers.
Microsoft wouldn't disclose the sale price of the carbon credits they bought from the Nisqually Land Trust. But at the current price of offsets on California's carbon market, it would be nearly a half million dollars.