A significant paradigm shift regarding the importance of climate action is occurring around the globe. Companies worldwide have developed sustainable initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint, reflecting a growing awareness of the dangers of global warming and a desire to do their part for climate protection.
Other key factors at play in the corporate sustainability push include:
- increasing consumer preference for “green” companies and their products,
- rising investment interest in sustainability-focused companies,
- and financial risk due to potential environmental fallout from global warming (e.g., intense droughts, severe fires, flooding, etc.).
In fact, a recent study found that “over 90% of the world’s largest companies will have at least one asset highly exposed to the physical impacts of climate change by the 2050s,” according to the report by S&P Global, an index and ratings provider.
Many businesses are looking to the cloud to become more sustainable.
With energy usage being the largest single contributor to global warming, many businesses have zeroed in on their IT infrastructure for sustainability gains. This isn’t surprising considering that data centers are known to be huge energy drains, accounting for approximately 2% of the total U.S. electricity use. With the nation’s appetite for data continuing to skyrocket, data center and server energy use is also expected to rise.
In an effort to reduce energy consumption, many companies have moved their on-site IT infrastructure to the cloud. Cloud adoption among business enterprises demonstrates this upward trend. According to Flexera’s 2021 State of the Cloud report, more than half of the 753 decision-makers surveyed use cloud heavily and have reached the advanced cloud maturity level. Regarding workloads, respondents stated that about 50% of their workloads are running in the cloud, with another 7% shifting over within a year. Another 40% of respondents were at various stages of cloud adoption.
So as cloud adoption surges, the question remains: Is the cloud actually greener? Some in the IT industry have argued that the cloud isn’t always necessarily greener. Industry experts counter that it depends on the cloud.
Five Ways to Assess a Cloud Provider’s “Green” Focus
When outsourcing cloud hosting, businesses can ensure their cloud provider has an excellent sustainability track record by asking about policies and initiatives related to their carbon emission reduction efforts. Below are five key areas that can tell you a lot about a provider’s true “green-ness”:
1. Carbon Neutral Commitments
Has the cloud provider made a commitment to reducing its carbon emissions? Even better, have they announced a goal and timeline to reach carbon neutrality? Carbon neutrality — also referred to as net zero — refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide emissions) going into the atmosphere are balanced by the removal of emissions from the atmosphere. In order to achieve that goal and avert the worst impacts of climate change, the world needs to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Many companies have already accepted the challenge and taken their commitments a step further, vowing to become carbon neutral even before the 2050 deadline. Among the major cloud providers, Google Cloud emerged as a sustainability leader early on, achieving net zero in 2007 through renewable energy purchases. The company has also recently developed Carbon Sense, a suite of solutions that combines multiple Google products that help users accurately measure carbon emissions from their Google Cloud usage and to adjust their choices (e.g., regional data center selection, etc.) to reduce their carbon impact.
2. Renewable Energy Use
A solid indicator of a cloud provider’s focus on going green is its use of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and other “clean” energy sources to power its services. Cloud providers can obtain these services by contracting with renewable energy providers or building and operating their own sources. The major cloud providers take pride in their use of renewable energy, so information about their usage is readily available to the public via their websites or an internet search.
Another resource for exploring the sustainability commitment of cloud providers is the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. The self-regulatory initiative, which Google Cloud and AWS helped launch in 2021, aims to make European data centers climate-neutral by 2030. Pact participants, which also include data center operators and trade associations, pledge to reach aggressive targets for power use effectiveness (PUE), water conservation, renewable energy use, and other factors.
3. Power Usage Effectiveness / Energy Efficient Data Centers
Speaking of PUE, not only is the use of green energy sources important to reduce carbon emissions, but cloud providers can also show their commitment to climate protection by taking steps to ensure the efficiency of their power usage.
For instance, Google Cloud uses AI algorithms to safely and autonomously deliver 30% energy savings to cooling systems in their data centers. The algorithm works by using historical weather data coupled with an intermittent sampling of weather conditions, which enables real-time cooling system adjustments in response to the environment.
Other ways cloud providers can deliver more efficient energy use are by:
- being located closer to the facilities that power them,
- using lower wattage for backup power by purchasing superior, more efficient hardware,
- and switching from diesel-powered backup generators to cleaner energy sources such as natural gas.
Be sure to ask if your cloud storage provider regularly tracks metrics such as power usage effectiveness and if those metrics are easily accessible for viewing.
4. Sustainable Building Design
The way cloud providers’ facilities are built plays a significant role in power efficiency. This starts with the materials used for construction. For instance, some builders include the use of modular construction and reusable building materials, all part of a low-carbon approach in construction meant to achieve 13% fewer carbon emissions during the construction process. In addition, repurposing or renovating existing buildings can lower carbon emissions resulting from construction activities.
Sustainability isn’t just affected by how the data center is constructed, but where it’s built, too. Building data centers that take advantage of natural environmental conditions to reduce the need for power generation should be taken into consideration. However, environmental factors, such as a cooler climate, play a lesser role in determining location than other factors (e.g., proximity to population centers and utility companies).
5. Environmentally Sensitive Data Destruction
The disposal of data storage devices and other materials should also be handled in an eco-friendly manner — assuming the provider is green-focused. Cloud vendors can use techniques for disposal or destruction with environmental impact in mind.
Additionally, providers can emphasize recycling of materials wherever possible, which lowers landfill build-up. All cloud disposal methods should be in compliance with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-88, “Guidelines for Media Sanitization,” which outlines disposal methods based on confidentiality and other issues.
Need help assessing your cloud options? Maven Wave can help. We’re industry leaders in supporting our customers’ digital transformation and cloud adoption journeys and can get you started on the right path.
For more information on Google Cloud’s sustainability efforts, download our white paper “Google Cloud & Sustainability: The Road to Net Zero With Google Cloud”. And if you’re ready to kick off a greener cloud transformation journey, contact one of our experts today.
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