Cloud computing agility has led to widespread adoption from enterprises. With the potential to cut down carbon footprints by 90% for small companies and achieve reductions of up to 30% per user for larger corporations [1], adopting cloud computing is prompting businesses to prioritize sustainability for their future growth.


Big tech’s footprint 

The rapid progression of computer systems and automated manufacturing procedures has led to a surge in carbon dioxide production. Recent reports indicated that numerous technologies are not as environmentally friendly as they seem to be. McKinsey reveals enterprise technology is accountable for emitting around 350 to 400 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases (CO2e), approximately 1% of the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [2]. While this might not appear substantial at first glance, it is equivalent to roughly half the emissions from aviation or shipping.

Nevertheless, cloud computing has become a pivotal tool to curb emissions they and other technologies generate. Catering to business preferences, Gartner's predicted that by 2025, the carbon emissions of cloud computing providers will rank among the top three criteria that businesses consider when selecting a cloud platform [3]. This prediction stems from the surge in corporate efforts to reduce their carbon footprints since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, most customers now favor companies actively preserving the environment. According to the EY Future Consumer Index, 55% of consumers believe they should drive companies and organizations to lead on better social and environmental [4].


How can cloud computing promote sustainability?

Operated without any hardware implementation, cloud computing can enable the following: 

  • Remote and centralized management: Cloud computing enables remote and centralized management of centers and offices, regardless of their geographical locations. It minimizes the need for external resources and grants access to the cloud from any device.
  • Optimized infrastructure utilization: Traditional practices involve companies operating their private data centers. This results in low utilization rates due to the equipment setup, in anticipation of server usage increases. In contrast, public cloud servers can be more efficient than traditional data centers due to their highly utilized infrastructure.
  • Faster hardware refresh cycles: Traditional data center hardware operates for extended periods with substantial costs and time involved in upgrading servers. Since public cloud hardware can yield significantly higher utilization rates, it's likely to have a shorter lifecycle, leading to quicker refresh cycles.
  • Flexible infrastructure: One key advantage of public cloud data centers is their flexibility. These centers are placed near their power sources, which can minimize energy losses that occur during the transmission of electrical energy over long distances. Cloud computing data centers use lower wattage for essential functions such as backup power and cooling. This advantage arises from their sophisticated hardware infrastructure, designed at scale to prioritize efficient energy consumption in pursuit of optimal resource utilization and temperature control. Specifically, cloud computing can reduce electricity consumption by up to 87% [5].

Following tech giants’ footsteps 

The strides made in energy efficiency within cloud computing can contribute to reducing its overall climate impact by generating fewer carbon emissions. AWS highlights that the average corporate data center relies on a less environmentally friendly power mix when compared to the typical large-scale cloud provider. These cloud providers employ a power mix that is 28% less carbon-intensive, an approach that also influences the costs associated with climate control [6]. The cloud can address this challenge by integrating energy-efficient equipment and practices, leading to improved productivity and lessening carbon emissions.

Technology giants, including Google and Amazon, have been at the forefront of refining their data center strategies by implementing cloud computing. Google's internal assessments highlight the energy efficiency achieved within their data centers, standing at twice the efficiency level of conventional enterprise data centers. Specifically, Google's data centers yield up to 6 times more computational power using the same electrical input. Additionally, Google's robust AI/ML engine can achieve operational efficiency and empowers partners to confront pressing energy conservation. By 2030, Google's data center aims to reach 100% green energy [7]

In another instance, Amazon has taken a proactive stance by establishing wind farms across the United States. This serves as the foundation for using sustainable energy sources for current and future AWS data centers. The most recent example is the collaboration between AWS and EDP Renewables to establish the Amazon Wind Farm US Central in Ohio. According to Jeff Bar, Amazon's Chief Evangelist of AWS, "The environmental argument for cloud computing is already surprisingly strong, and I expect that the overall equation will continue to improve." Amazon is committed to making substantial contributions to renewable energy adoption with cloud computing through these sustainable initiatives. 


The green revolution of cloud computing

The cloud is revolutionizing the IT industry in many ways. With its projections to save more than 59 million tons of CO2 and over EUR 200 billion in annual savings for companies [8], cloud computing can drive businesses toward a sustainable future. 

Author Tuan Minh Tran