The issue of sustainability has never been as high up on the agenda as it is today. Documentary makers, climate activists and even advocates of reusable coffee cups are increasing awareness about the impact of carbon emissions and single use plastics on our environment.
Current models predict that Earth will warm between 2 and 6 degrees over the next century – 20 times faster than the usual rate. Other studies show that human activity has released more than 2 trillion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases since the mid-1700s industrial revolution. Three quarters of this is carbon and most has been emitted since the mid-1950s.
This is more carbon than the planet can absorb, and once excess carbon enters the atmosphere it can take thousands of years to go away. Rising sea levels and the threat to biodiversity are why the topic is so prominent and the technology industry cannot ignore the reality.
The sustainable cloud
An organisation’s sustainability initiatives help meet the demands from customers and employees who look for ethical organisations when making purchase decisions or looking for a job.
Businesses can expand these efforts by making sustainable decisions when procuring and using technology.
Cloud infrastructure and applications are essential vehicles for digitisation efforts that aid the overall business. The cloud improves agility, flexibility and cost predictability, while it also enables new ways of working. Not only that, the cloud is more efficient than legacy IT.
The operation of physical infrastructure involves significant energy requirements as servers require a constant power supply, even if capacity isn’t being maximised. This contrasts with the cloud where multiple users share infrastructure, meaning capacity can be allocated dynamically depending on individual needs.
A report has found that Microsoft Cloud services are up to 93% more energy efficient and up to 98% more efficient than traditional enterprise data centre setups. This advantage is achieved through chip design, the efficiency of infrastructure, and the use of renewable energy for power and cooling. Public cloud vendors huge investments in research and development mean this efficiency advantage will only increase over time.
There is another significant environmental benefit to cloud technology – a reduction in e-Waste.
According to the United Nations, the world produces almost 50 million tonnes of e-Waste every year. Only a fifth of this is responsibly recycled, meaning materials that can contaminate soil and food supplies and are harmful to humans are released into the environment.
Some of these materials are rare commodities essential to the manufacture of electronics likes smartphones. A failure to recycle means greater quantities of these chemicals and metals must be created or mined, further increasing the environmental damage.
The operation of private infrastructure requires more frequent refreshes of equipment such as servers, storage and user endpoints than the cloud. The impact of the manufacture, transportation and disposal of this equipment is therefore greater than what would be involved through cloud consumption.
Reducing business travel
The green benefits of cloud adoption extend beyond an operational level. Cloud technology enables connected workforce strategies that allow staff to collaborate, communicate and work on any device at any time.
Such an approach not only increases productivity, but also allows employees to work from home or communicate via videoconference rather than in person. As a result, the carbon emissions from commuting or travelling to a meeting are eliminated.
Four in five people would choose a job that offered remote working over one that didn’t while 85% believe their productivity has increased as a result of flexibility. On top of that, remote workers in the US prevent 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by not commuting. It is estimated that if people worked out of the office for only half the week, then emissions could be reduced by 54 million tons annually.
What can organisations do?
Even organisations that have well-developed cloud strategies will need to make physical purchases – after all, the connected workforce wouldn’t function without laptops, smartphones and tablets. Greenpeace and the Green Electronics Council's gold, silver and bronze EPEAT certifications are examples of rating systems that award scores based on certain standards on design, toxic materials, lifespan and packaging.
Cloud vendors are not resting on their laurels, with many now pledging to become carbon neutral. Microsoft is going one step further by promising to be carbon negative by 2030. By 2050, the company says it will have removed all the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975.
On top of this, Microsoft will use its capabilities to help suppliers and customers reduce their own carbon footprints. It will also launch a $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate development of carbon reduction, capture and removal technologies.
The cloud has long been recognised as an essential platform for innovation, but it can also be seen as a key vehicle for sustainability in IT procurement.
Find out more about how Insight is enabling the Connected Workforce here.