Sustainable cloud: better for business and for the environment
08 July 2022 • 6 min read
Sustainable practices have become increasingly prevalent in technology as well as the wider economy in recent years, and the cloud is no exception. More and more businesses are recognising that sustainability is not only good for the environment but that it is also good business - promoting profitability and having a positive impact on the bottom line.
Amongst proponents of a sustainable approach, efficiency is often cited as one of the primary benefits - though we’re well aware that operational efficiency can be challenging to implement, particularly when the velocity of delivery is also a key consideration.
Other perks might be less obvious from a technical perspective, but actually be easier to achieve: businesses that embrace sustainability will benefit from attracting new customers as the demand for eco-friendly products and services soars, as well as improving their company's reputation, and future-proofing their products against future regulations.
How do you evaluate sustainability in the cloud?
In order to make the move to more sustainable cloud computing, you first need to understand how it is defined. 'The Sustainable Web Manifesto' - a shared commitment to creating a sustainable internet - lists six well-understood principles for classifying sustainability:
- Clean - "The services we provide and services we use will be powered by renewable energy."
- Efficient - "The products and services we provide will use the least amount of energy and material resources possible."
- Open - "The products and services we provide will be accessible, allow for the open exchange of information, and allow users to control their data."
- Honest - "The products and services we provide will not mislead or exploit users in their design or content."
- Regenerative - "The products and services we provide will support an economy that nourishes people and the planet."
- Resilient - "The products and services we provide will function in the times and places where people need them most."
If sustainability is a key consideration for your business then these principles provide a useful framework through which to analyse the approach taken by the three principal cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.
In this blog, we will look at the tools that these three providers offer to empower business, marketing, and engineering teams to implement a responsible and sustainable approach to delivering and maintaining digital products.
How does the sustainability of the cloud compare to traditional infrastructure?
Cloud is generally more sustainable than traditional infrastructure for multiple reasons. Firstly, cloud platform providers have more ability to build their data centres close to the facilities that power them, and regularly build their own wind/solar farms to power them. The hardware that they use is also superior, this means that less energy is needed for things like cooling. The cloud also takes away the issue that many traditional data centres have with over-provision, allowing companies to scale up and down when needed. Serverless technology is great for this, as only what is needed is used, with no input from the customers. Alongside all of these benefits, the three principal cloud providers are taking other steps to make sure that they’re an even more sustainable choice.
How does AWS approach sustainability in the cloud?
AWS is one of the co-founders of The Climate Pledge (of which Microsoft is also a signatory), with the ambitious goal of reaching net-zero carbon by 2040. They have also committed to powering all operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and are now the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world, taking over from Google in 2020. AWS is also working to make other businesses more sustainable by setting up the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI) which
minimises the cost and time needed to obtain and analyse large sustainability datasets.
How does Microsoft approach sustainability in the cloud?
Microsoft has very similar goals to AWS, also aiming to use 100% renewable energy by 2025. Additionally, they’re planning to be ‘water-positive’ by 2030, replenishing more water than they’re using - a key consideration given that significant amounts of water can often be used in cooling. What’s more, Microsoft is also already committed to net-zero deforestation for any new construction of data centres.
How does Google approach sustainability in the cloud?
Though it has the smallest market share, Google has made significant sustainability pledges. Google announced that they had achieved carbon neutrality as far back as 2007, and in 2017 they followed this up by matching 100% of their electricity consumption with renewable energy. Though superseded by Amazon in 2020, up until this point Google was the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy. Google is now working toward powering its data centres with carbon-free energy by 2030.
How can businesses make an informed, sustainable choice?
A recent development has been that all three providers have introduced tools which let the companies and developers using their platforms make more informed decisions around their carbon footprint. AWS released the Carbon Footprint tool as a part of billing earlier in 2022, Google launched their Carbon Footprint tool in 2021 and has now expanded it into the Carbon Sense suite and Microsoft has the Emissions Impact Dashboard for Azure, however, this is not built into their offering unlike the other two.
What sustainability monitoring tools are available within AWS?
Announced in March 2022, the Customer Carbon Footprint Tool is provided in addition to other reporting metrics available in the Billing Console. It shows carbon emissions in geographic and per-service form, represented in Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent or MTCO2e. One interesting feature is the projection of carbon emissions in line with AWS’ pledge to reach net-zero carbon by 2040 so that customers can see how the provider’s efforts will impact their carbon footprint over time.
What sustainability monitoring tools are available within Microsoft Azure?
In January 2020 Microsoft announced that the Microsoft Sustainability Calculator would become available for customers. It is a Power BI (a data visualisation tool from Microsoft) application which provides visualised information about the carbon emissions associated with the Azure services used. This allows users to drill down by month, by service and by data centre region. It also allows users to estimate their emissions savings if they were to move to Azure, though it does not currently have the ability to recommend changes that could lower emissions.
What sustainability monitoring tools are available within the Google Cloud Platform?
Launched in 2021, the GCP Carbon Footprint tool presents a very mature offering including an in-console dashboard and breakdowns by region, project, product, and month. It also allows automatic exports and BigQuery to perform data analysis, as well as integrations with other tools including Unattended Project Recommender which flags idle projects and shows the projected gross emission reduction that can be achieved by removing them. This service has also undergone an independent third party review.
How are AND Digital approaching sustainability?
We recognise that we also need to do our part to build a truly sustainable business. With that in mind, we’ve committed to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2025, with the vision to be net positive by 2040! We’re doing this by reducing the energy consumption of our Clubhouses and Basecamps (our office network to non-ANDis) by 50% during 2023 and 2024, as well as defining a Net Zero Blueprint for all new and existing Clubhouses and Basecamps. We’re also looking in detail at how and why our ANDis (our people) travel for work. We’re targeting a 50% annual reduction in the number of flights taken from 2023, as well as a 33% annual reduction in car journeys, and a 25% reduction in the number of couriers that we use.
Aside from our direct emissions, we’re also looking long and hard at the indirect emissions resulting from the energy we purchase from suppliers, measuring our data footprint more accurately so we can curb the resultant emissions, and supplementing this with a comprehensive programme of education and support - in order to build a culture committed to the environment; educating and upskilling or ANDis, clients, suppliers, our board, and our investors.
Join our ‘Building a Sustainable Partnership’ event:
Spending some time exploring sustainable cloud options now will save your business money in the long run. AND Digital helps clients build scalable cloud-native platforms and applications AND supports them in creating sustainable cloud technology delivery.
To help you understand this topic in more detail, we’re running a ‘Building a Sustainable Partnership’ webinar on the 14th of July 2022 with our partners at AWS.