Cloud Services and Environmental Sustainability - Part 1: Developing a Sustainability Plan

  • May 05, 2022

With the global awareness of Earth Day last Friday, we all now must take a moment and reflect on what we’ve learned and what we can do better.  This is the first blog post (in a four-part series) that takes a closer look at cloud services and how enterprises and users can make choices that help save our precious planet.

Regardless of industry or geographical location, there’s something all companies need to be mindful of — shrinking their carbon footprint. It’s viewed by many as either something their company can do little about or their footprint isn’t significant enough to give it much thought. But that’s one of the many reasons our planet has experienced climate change. We all — and all companies — need to do our part. According to Debra Roberts, Co-chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report, “...we have to act, we need a whole of society approach, no one can be left out, no household, no businesses, no government...”

Why Develop a Sustainability Plan for IT Workloads?

While hearing the carbon emissions may bring to mind other industries, like transportation and manufacturing, the technology sector certainly needs to do their part. Consider the aviation industry. It’s known as a large carbon emitter, representing 3% of U.S. carbon emissions. What many don't realize is that technology (datacenters, cloud, networking, end-user devices, et al.) isn’t far behind, with an estimated 2% of overall carbon emissions. In an effort to do their part, cloud providers make it easy to calculate the CO2 emissions of your cloud workloads; of course, it is what you do with this information that’s important.

So, why should we build a sustainability plan and optimize IT workloads? Here are eight reasons:

  1. Reduce environmental impacts – While many governments have agreed to reduce carbon emissions, it takes everyone's effort to meet these goals.
  2. Reduce costs – As our computing needs increase, so does our need for more energy to process and transmit data. With the rise in energy costs, CPUs and GPUs, optimizing computing consumption can both minimize costs and make workloads more environmentally friendly.
  3. Increase revenue – Enterprises are reviewing their supplier’s carbon efficiency, so running clean IT is now a competitive advantage.
  4. Increase security and reliability – The methods to improve carbon efficiency often improve security and reliability, as well. For example, an application running with small containers — as opposed to one running on VMs (virtual machines), which are never stopped — has a smaller attack surface. It doesn’t include a full operating system, is immutable, scales horizontally and recovers from failures.
  5. Meet compliance requirements – There are many environmental compliance and regulatory requirements. In the UK, for instance, some companies are required to report their carbon emissions.
  6. Increase stock performance – Investors are increasingly interested in companies with high ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) ratings. In 2021, $649 billion were invested in ESG-focused funds, versus $542 billion and $285 billion invested in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
  7. Impact the geo-political landscape – Energy is a constant source of conflicts throughout the world. Understanding from where countries source their energy may impact your choice of a cloud region.
  8. Become an employer of choice – Hiring technical talent is a highly competitive venture. Demonstrating concrete actions and an ambitious and achievable sustainability roadmap are differentiators that help attract green-minded talent.

What Are the Resources IT Consumes and Produces?

CO2 emissions aren’t the only impact that IT workloads have on the environment. Others include:

  1. Water – While there is no clear data about the water consumption of data centers for cooling equipment, it’s estimated that modern data centers use millions of gallons of water every day. While that doesn’t suggest data centers are turning millions of gallons of water from clean to dirty, a large amount evaporates as part of the cooling process. This has a significant environmental impact in regions suffering from drought conditions.
  2. Mineral resources – Manufacturing computers, CPUs and GPUs require significant resources, extensive mining, environmentally hazardous chemicals and metals, and global shipping.
  3. Waste generation – Even if electricity is generated by a carbon-free nuclear plant, waste is still produced and must be stored and managed.
  4. Additional things to consider include societal impacts, such as noise reduction and waste recycling.

Please read my next blog in this series on measuring the environmental impact of your public cloud workloads.  If you found this useful, please subscribe to our Tech Blog and you'll get updates when new posts are published.

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Matt Buchner
Matt Buchner is Sr. Director of Cloud Solution Architecture at NTT DATA. He brings 15 years of international experience delivering technology solutions to solve complex business challenges in a rapidly evolving business and technology landscape.

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