- Sustainability is a key concern for businesses. The growth of ESG reporting means businesses must understand the impact of their IT solutions
- Cloud vendors provide a range of documentation and tools to help understand energy usage and sustainability
- Teams should consider including a sustainability non-functional requirement in solution designs
The worldwide focus on combating climate change is increasing the pressure on organisations to operate sustainably. This means reducing waste, increasing efficiency, minimising environmental harm, and committing to reusable and recyclable resources wherever possible.
The issue of sustainability in IT is now high on the agenda for companies. A common tactic is to simply switch to cloud providers for services, but sustainability requires much more thought (and effort) to be meaningful.
This isn’t to suggest that cloud hosting isn’t beneficial to the environment. A 2020 report by Accenture estimated that migrating from on-premise to the cloud can reduce an organisation’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 80% – but sustainability within the cloud also requires consideration. In October 2022 AWS introduced the Sustainability Pillar to their Well-Architected Framework.
This describes a shared responsibility model where the vendor is responsible for the sustainability of the cloud and customers are responsible for sustainability in the cloud. In practical terms, this means designing architecture that leverages managed services to maximise utilisation and reduce waste.
Measuring sustainability in the cloud
Engineering teams should be looking to introducing sustainability as a non-functional requirement when designing solutions. This could mean balancing traditional measures such as availability with metrics that track workload intensity.
These sustainability objectives will likely be achieved by deploying on-demand technologies to avoid idle servers, leveraging serverless services that scale-to-zero, and continually reviewing the estate to ensure infrastructure is right-sized. The major vendors do provide tools, such as the Google Carbon Sense suite and AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool, to help track the impact of your cloud usage.
The major vendors do provide tools, such as the Google Carbon Sense suite and AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool, to help track the impact of your cloud usage.
This is limited to existing customers and not integrated to other services such as those offered by Microsoft to track overall sustainability objectives.
Globally, cloud data centres consume more electricity than the entire UK. The source of the power that your cloud vendor uses should be considered alongside their locations and pricing model. For example, Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, intending to be carbon-free by 2030. All the major providers claim to have made progress in cutting emissions – this is sometimes difficult to verify as there are no formal sustainability reporting standards that they currently have to adhere to.
The importance of tracking sustainability
Accounting for the sustainability of your organisation, as well as determining the sustainability posture of your cloud provider, is challenging. ESG reporting is mandatory for large UK companies and is expected to become a requirement for smaller companies in line with EU regulations.
This involves disclosing the strategy and processes around climate related risks as well as reporting energy usage and carbon emissions. Cloud vendors do provide some data to help organisations – The Google region picker will help support overall decision making, and the more detailed carbon footprint of each region will support more detailed goals.
AWS advise that host regions should be selected that have the lowest carbon intensity, or have close proximity to renewable energy sources but this is left to the customer to determine.
Delivering sustainable solutions require a focus on efficiency that should not only help reduce cloud spend but also improve the carbon footprint of the organisation.
Delivering sustainable solutions require a focus on efficiency that should not only help reduce cloud spend but also improve the carbon footprint of the organisation. As reporting requirements become more widespread, adopting this approach will be vital for technology to meet sustainability goals.
Thanks to Technical Consultant David Cartlidge for his contribution to this post.