Can the right cloud provider solve the sustainability problem?
When applied well, technology helps organizations thrive, innovate and compete. Today’s digital landscape offers a host of new business models, cost savings and improved bottom lines. The impact of technology on the environment and its contribution to our carbon footprint, however, is often overlooked in organizational strategy and planning. A peer-reviewed study said in 2018 that if the IT industry continues at the current pace, the sector will contribute 14% of global carbon emissions by 2040.
With that in mind, how can companies define technological sustainability without resorting to a hodgepodge of buzzwords, or simply “greenwashing” what they do? Sustainable technology takes natural resources into account and promotes economic, social and ecological development. The ultimate goal is to reduce environmental and ecological risks and create long-term societal value for all.
Many organizations have been slow to adopt meaningful technology sustainability initiatives, and some argue that there are too many different metrics to effectively measure sustainable technology adoption. His obvious pressure from the organization’s stakeholders, however, has increased significantly. Nearly one in three consumers reportedly stopped associating with certain companies due to ethical or sustainability concerns. Similarly, when companies want to buy new products and services from suppliers, modern procurement teams assess the supplier’s sustainability position. Organizations would therefore be wise to “think big and start now” and factor sustainability into their technology operations.
Dealing with the impact of global technology adoption
In 2021, nearly 60% of the Earth’s population are active Internet users. As businesses and individuals generate more data (opens in a new tab) More than ever, the technology industry is faced with the challenge of mitigating the impact of data centers and other IT infrastructures on the environment and on the consumption of natural resources. The world’s data centers would now use more electricity than the UK’s total electricity consumption, to provide the power and cooling needed to maintain temperature-controlled environments that operate 24/7.
Cryptocurrencies are also incredibly resource intensive, especially “proof of work” currencies such as Bitcoin. (opens in a new tab) and Etherum. As of this writing, they are massive drivers of data center resource consumption. It is currently estimated that Bitcoin has a similar carbon footprint to Kuwait, consumes as much energy as Thailand, and generates similar amounts of e-waste as Holland. A single Bitcoin transaction consumes as much electricity as an average US household in about 75 days and generates electronic waste equivalent to throwing two iPhones straight into the trash.
The number of data centers worldwide has increased dramatically, from 500,000 in 2012 to over 8 million today. The amount of energy used by data centers continues to double every four years, resulting in the IT sector having the fastest growing energy footprint in the world. It’s clear that data centers have a massive impact on sustainability on a global scale, which has led software giants like Google to ensure they follow a path through net zero to be completely neutral in carbon (and in some cases carbon negative). As the first cloud service (opens in a new tab) A provider that will go carbon neutral in 2007, Google is leading the way in committing to using renewable energy sources and ensuring that its data centers consume 50% less energy than the industry average. The company aims to be completely carbon-free by 2030 globally and has implemented highly efficient evaporative cooling solutions, smart temperature, lighting controls and bespoke servers. (opens in a new tab) which consume as little energy as possible.
Many organizations do not have the financial resources available for extensive and dedicated sustainability initiatives for their data centers and broader technology operations. Net zero actions, such as purchasing enough high-quality carbon offsets to offset the carbon impact, and carbon neutral actions such as converting or upgrading data centers to be carbon neutral , are both expensive.
There are measures that can be put in place relatively easily to become more energy efficient and reduce the carbon footprint of your technology. The biggest opportunity lies in cloud computing. Choosing a public cloud provider like Google that is actively neutralizing its carbon footprint, and that is committed and focused on going beyond net zero, is a relatively easy “win”.
A key factor in reducing CO2 emissions from the technology industry has been the consolidation of on-premises data centers into larger-scale cloud-based facilities. Cloud provider data centers leverage economies of scale to efficiently manage power consumption, optimize cooling (and therefore water consumption), deploy energy-efficient servers at scale, and maximize use of servers. Organizations can take advantage of these benefits along with enhanced cybersecurity (opens in a new tab)the scalability and potential operational and economic efficiencies that cloud migration brings.
Accenture’s The Green Behind the Cloud report backs this up by stating that cloud migrations will reduce global carbon emissions by up to 59 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
The future of sustainable technology
The momentum of the sustainable technology movement has been building for some time. It is no longer possible (or reasonable) for organizations to neglect their obligations to society and fail to implement best practices in sustainability. Consumers, partners and stakeholders in the technology industry are committed to sustainable and environmentally positive behavior and expect companies in the sector to do the same.
Businesses need to think about what they can do, but when and what to plan for, their step towards a more sustainable IT landscape. For many organizations, migrating to the cloud (opens in a new tab) (or cloud adoption) is the fastest and best route to achieving completely carbon-neutral IT operations. Being cloud-based means organizations use less energy and helps them reduce carbon emissions. Businesses operating in the cloud will consume approximately 77% fewer servers and reduce their reliance on expensive and environmentally harmful on-premises or hosted data centers.
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