How the Cloud Can Help Enterprises Become More Sustainable

The cloud can play a key role in helping organizations, and the cloud itself, become more sustainable. Here’s what you need to know.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

October 23, 2023

4 Min Read
ESG concept with modern windmills situated amidst white clouds and a blue sky.
Martin Bergsma via Alamy Stock

At a Glance

  • IT leaders should adopt methods to achieve sustainability, experts say.
  • Clients need to understand value in cloud sustainability.
  • Experts explain some of the biggest misconceptions surrounding cloud sustainability.

The cloud helps organizations become more sustainable by reducing their carbon footprint and related costs while opening a pathway to increased innovation and productivity. Yet many IT leaders still aren’t adopting the practices that will allow them to achieve their sustainability goals.

To help their customers, cloud providers should focus on sourcing clean energy, whether it’s through their own capital investments or by partnering with energy providers, says Brett McCoy, banking cloud leader at Deloitte Consulting, via an email interview. “Cloud providers must continue to innovate and utilize specialized hardware that can perform specific workloads with high levels of efficiency.”

Cloud customers face a different set of sustainability challenges. The best way to drive sustainability is by establishing a GreenOps function with the goal of driving down emissions, McCoy advises. “This must be done across the technology stack, focusing on architecting and utilizing low carbon cloud regions, refactoring high emission workloads, and providing transparency to the broader organization on goals and progress,” he says. “We see GreenOps functions being successfully established in conjunction with FinOps functions to drive down both emissions and spend.”

Related:How to Trim Your Cloud Budget

All clouds aren’t created equally when it comes to maximizing sustainability objectives says Bernie Hoecker, a partner and enterprise cloud transformation lead with technology research and advisory firm ISG in an email interview. He notes that it’s important to fully understand the cloud provider’s sustainability offerings before committing to the service. “This is especially important if a firm is required to meet compliance and regulatory requirements for their industry and/or country,” Hoecker says.

Seeking Sustainability

Many cloud clients have spent decades creating IT environments that weren’t built with sustainability as a top priority, Hoecker observes. “These aging infrastructures continue to expand as the demand for computing power grows at a rapid pace.” The cloud gives such organizations the chance for a fresh start. Sustainable cloud environments can lower costs by allowing customers to decommission data centers and consolidating hardware and software footprints.

Customers should begin their cloud sustainability commitment by studying and understanding the goals their employees and clients value and how sustainability will ultimately affect their organization, suggests Soumya Gangopadhyay, technology consulting senior manager at business advisory firm EY in an email interview. “Many [enterprises] start in a least resistant and most impactful fashion by working on their supply chains,” he notes. Success, he says, requires regularly reviewing and adapting the sustainability strategy to align with emerging technologies and best practices.

Related:Assessing the Cloud and Its Benefits

Cloud sustainability goals should be compatible with the organization’s overall sustainability goals, including environmental, social, and governance (ESG) objectives. “Understand your current cloud usage and forecast future requirements,” Hoecker recommends. This includes cloud services and resources deployed within the organization as well as those supplied by third parties. “Once you understand your current cloud usage, you can set goals for reducing your environmental impact.”

All cloud providers aren’t equally when it comes to creating a sustainability budget. Hoecker advises implementing a cloud FinOps team to monitor and measure progress and ensure that the entire cloud estate is achieving its targeted goals. “This includes people, process and tools, coupled with an ecosystem of partners to run an efficient and accountable cloud estate,” he says. It’s also important to monitor and measure progress. “This will help identify areas where you can improve.”

Related:Businesses Bloom With Sustainability Gains

A multi-faceted approach, combining an energy-efficient infrastructure, resource optimization, renewable energy, and effective waste management practices, can all contribute to making the cloud and cloud customers more sustainable, Gangopadhyay says. “Collaboration among cloud service providers, businesses, and policymakers is crucial to driving sustainable practices in the industry.”

Common Misconceptions

The biggest cloud sustainability misconception IT leaders have is the idea that meeting goals is entirely the cloud provider’s responsibility. McCoy explains that there are many actions cloud customers can take to drive down emissions such as by deploying enhanced architectures, workload refactoring, and continuous improvement through GreenOps.

Some IT leaders believe that once they move to the cloud, sustainability responsibilities are transferred entirely to the cloud provider. Cloud provider responsibility is a key component, but the client must own the total plan to achieve their desired goals, Hoecker says.

Meanwhile, many enterprise workloads continue to run on traditional, on-premises environments. In some cases, workloads are shared across and between cloud and non-cloud environments. “It’s critical to understand the sustainability impacts across these mixed environments,” Hoecker says.

A Multidimensional Effort

IT leaders need to understand that cloud sustainability is a multidimensional effort that requires the responsible and optimized use of cloud resources, prioritization of renewable energy sources, and an ongoing commitment to sustainable practices, Gangopadhyay says. “By dispelling misconceptions, IT leaders can take proactive steps toward achieving a truly sustainable cloud environment,” he adds. “Sustainability should be everyone’s business.”

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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