Why the cloud is a greener choice

With stricter regulations and increasing consumer demands, businesses must become greener and technology may be the answer

For many organisations, environmental sustainability has shifted from being a nice to have to a non-negotiable necessity.

There are several reasons for this, not least the urgent debate over climate change that dominates the world stage. In many cases, organisations will be looking to comply with legislation; the UK, for example, has set a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. For others, it is a case of reputational risk management and pressures from consumers, shareholders and employees.

Also, a changing demographic – millennials already make up around 50 per cent of UK employees, with Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) beginning to enter the workforce – sees business tech buyers now choosing brands that align with their personal values.

A recent survey by IDC found that six out of ten European businesses cited sustainability as a very or extremely important business priority for 2020. This means that the environmental impact of their IT is now as important as traditional factors such as pricing.

Technology is and will be the means to achieve sustainability key performance indicators

“Technology is and will be the means to achieve sustainability key performance indicators,” says Margaret Adam, associate vice president, IDC Europe. “Over 50 per cent of European companies state explicitly that they are currently investing in technologies to improve sustainability performance. Our research also showed us that there is a causal relationship between sustainability-targeted governance and investments, and strong financial performance.”

Why moving to the cloud is a green choice

One often-cited way to be greener is to move legacy IT infrastructure and services from on-premises servers to the cloud. The cloud is considered inherently more sustainable than traditional approaches to consuming IT. New research points to significant efficiency improvements in cloud datacentres that have enabled computing output to increase while energy consumption remains low.

“The adoption of cloud models and services presents organisations with an opportunity to demonstrate a relatively ‘quick win’ for cutting down emissions related to their operations,” according to techUK’s Cloud 2020 & Beyond report.

“Cloud and datacentres play a crucial role in corporate progress on environmental sustainability initiatives and cloud players have made significant progress on reducing PUE [power-usage efficiency] in the last ten or so years,” says Forrester researcher Salvatore Schiano.

“But as companies continue to rely on these services and scrutiny on corporate climate action accelerates, requests for improved efficiency, resiliency and reduced overall environmental impact have accelerated.”

Indeed, the major public cloud companies have all announced ambitious plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and use of renewable energy. Last year, Amazon and Global Optimism co-founded the Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach the Paris Agreement ten years early and be net-zero carbon by 2040.

“Cloud computing brings economies of scale efficiency by operating hyperscale, modern, homogenous, purpose-built compute facilities. These facilities are designed to be efficient to cool, in locations that offer free air cooling such as Northern Europe, connected by planet scale privately owned data networks. Investment in these facilities runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars a year, with most of the largest facilities opened in the last ten years,” says James Breeze, principal and cloud lead at technology consultancy DMW.

“The sheer scale of these facilities across the four major global hyperscale providers means it’s worthwhile for them to employ full-time teams to research and develop the best technology for efficient and sustainable operations. Even a marginal improvement, deployed at global scale, can represent a significant saving.”

Helping customers be more sustainable

Cloud consulting and managed service provider Xtravirt says it has helped navigate dozens of enterprise-scale customers to a more sustainable future with the cloud. Strategic services director Robin Gardner argues that sustainability isn’t just about eco-credentials; it can also apply to organisational capability.

“Xtravirt is increasingly moving customers to cloud-based services so that investment in skills within IT functions can be focused on the delivery of business differentiation rather than the maintenance of datacentre infrastructure,” he says.

Moreover, it is also important to note that cloud providers are extending their commitment to cutting carbon emissions to helping customers with their own sustainability objectives.

One example of this is Octopus Energy, which leverages the benefits that come with being in the cloud to provide consumers with incentives to move their energy usage outside expensive and carbon-intensive peak hours to be more sustainable. Using Amazon Web Services, the company can calculate when the wholesale cost of energy and carbon intensity is at its lowest and alert customers of the best time to plug in.

“We’re trying to demonstrate that actually investing in cloud-native technologies enables you to deliver exceptional customer service and lower costs to customers, and the kinds of products and data management which enable people to act more sustainably,” says Octopus Energy’s chief technology officer James Eddison.

“We’ve proven in multiple ways that price is a powerful tool to help ask customers to change behaviour. And we’re providing ways to make that transparent for them, and all of this is because we have the scalability and the services online in the cloud.”

Sustainability has become a deciding factor when it comes to purchasing technology. This extends to the cloud as it is increasingly viewed as a means of helping both organisations and end-users become more sustainable, hit their business objectives and, of course, better care for the planet.