Cloud computing is an increasing contributor to carbon emissions because of the energy needs of data centers.
With demand for digital services and cloud-based computing rising, industry efforts concentrated on energy efficiency will be required. This means organizations across all verticals must fold their cloud carbon footprint into their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets.
This is especially true for those organizations that have committed to net-zero or science-based targets or other similar decarbonization commitments, as cloud computing would need to be accounted for in the calculations.
Depending on an organization’s business model, and especially for companies that focus on digital services, the energy consumed through cloud computing can be a material portion of their overall emissions.
In addition, shifting to the cloud can contribute to the reduction of the carbon footprint if it is approached with intent, and explicitly built into the DNA of technology deployment and management.
Major Cloud Providers Offering Insight
Casey Herman, PwC US ESG leader, explained that the major cloud service providers -- Google, Amazon, Microsoft -- are already providing data on energy usage and emissions on a regular basis.
“Smaller players are still playing catch-up either providing online calculations, which require customers to be responsible for securing these values, or there is no information provided at all,” he says. “CIOs should have their operational teams monitor these and preferentially select those service providers that provide real-time tools to optimize the energy usage.”
He notes that CIOs should also increasingly build or purchase tools that allow a holistic view across all the cloud computing impacts: Currently, they would need to look at each provider separately and then aggregate them external to any tools that may be provided by service providers.
“At PwC, we have been piloting an IT sustainability dashboard that collects data from public cloud providers and on-premises systems and then provides views on key sustainability metrics like energy reuse efficiency or carbon usage effectiveness,” he adds.
Herman says that ultimately, organizations are seeking greater use of data for more advanced analysis, which will consume increasingly more computing power, which translates to more energy.
“Cloud service providers have been quick to reduce their carbon footprints, including public statements and investing money in renewables and carbon capture projects,” he says. “These organizations are putting in a carbon-neutral infrastructure that could then support the current and growing demand for data, analytics, and computing power.”