Last updated: Head in the clouds, sustainability goals on the horizon

Head in the clouds, sustainability goals on the horizon


The benefits of moving to the cloud are well-documented: increased flexibility, agility, and access to innovative technologies. Now, there’s another reason businesses are embracing cloud: to reach their sustainability goals.

Amid global concerns about climate change, companies are increasingly looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and the cloud can help.

Here’s how the cloud helps businesses meet their sustainability goals:

  1. Cloud data centers are more efficient
  2. The cloud enables remote work
  3. No hardware means no waste

Sustainability goals: Cloud providers lead the charge

As some of the world’s largest data center operators, the leading cloud providers play an important role in sustainability initiatives — and they’re aware of this fact, implementing ambitious plans to reduce their own carbon emissions.

Microsoft, for example, has a plan to be carbon negative by 2030 and hopes, by 2050, to have removed all the carbon it’s emitted since the company’s founding in 1975. Amazon has set its goal to power all operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and has committed to reaching net-zero carbon across its operations by 2040. Google reports that it’s been carbon neutral since 2007 and will be carbon free by 2030.

These efforts, in turn, have a direct impact on their customers’ sustainability.

Better energy efficiency → reduced footprint

As companies transform to become digital first, they have a choice to make: continue to build out the data center to support digital transformation, or offload the procurement, maintenance, and operation of data center hardware to the cloud.

A cloud service provider not only reduces the operational cost of running a data center, but also the carbon footprint associated with it.

By aggregating compute resources across its customers, cloud service providers can achieve economies of scale that smaller companies cannot. As a result, an organization’s data center in the cloud produces less carbon than the equivalent of that data center running on-premises.

The numbers prove it. For example, studies by 451 Research have shown that AWS’ infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of U.S. enterprise data centers surveyed and up to five times more energy efficient than the average in Europe.

Businesses can further reduce their energy consumption with SaaS cloud management tools.

Remote work helps the planet

Thanks to the cloud, employees can work anywhere they have an internet connection, which means they don’t have to go to the office. Enabling remote work results in fewer vehicles on the road and lower emissions.

We saw this firsthand when businesses were forced to send workers home during the pandemic. According to a report in Nature, the US saw a “nearly 13% decrease in its emissions, due mostly to a sharp decline in vehicle transportation that began with the lockdowns in March and continued as the pandemic escalated at the end of the year.”

Hybrid or remote work programs also mean fewer people in the office at any given time, giving companies the opportunity to downsize their office space or at least use it more efficiently. Even reducing heating and cooling on days that employees work remotely can reduce costs and your environmental footprint.

No hardware, no waste

There’s an often-overlooked benefit of the cloud’s as-a-service consumption model versus on-premises infrastructure: You don’t have to get rid of what you don’t buy.

End-of-life asset decommissioning is one more operational function and regulatory burden IT organizations can relieve themselves of by moving to the cloud. It becomes the cloud provider’s responsibility to oversee what happens to IT hardware when it’s no longer useful.

Similarly, because organizations aren’t receiving hardware shipments, they can absolve themselves from having to dispose of the various materials used in the shipment of the products. All that cardboard and Styrofoam? No longer an issue.

Sustainability rises to the top

According to an IDC survey, 83% of respondents agree sustainability is the most important criteria in IT buying decisions.

Moreover, businesses are paying attention to the growing number of consumers who prioritize sustainability and look to buy from companies that share their values. A Gartner survey found that 63% of  executives at companies with sustainability programs cited the customer as the most important catalyst for action.

Moving to the cloud and choosing cloud-based technologies can help you reduce your own carbon footprint while supporting a wider sustainability movement powered by the cloud providers.

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