What you don’t know about cloud computing emissions
In the last two decades, digitization has become deeply rooted in our day to day lives, both at work and at home. Since the pandemic, this has become even more the case, with working from home becoming a necessity then, and now an ongoing trend. The effects of digitization on climate change aren’t spoken of as much as other major contributors such fossil fuels, however digital technologies are responsible for 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and its energy consumption is growing by 9% each year! The make-up of these emissions are user terminals (63%), networks (22%) and data centres (15%).
How does cloud computing relate to carbon emissions?
Although data centres make up a smaller percentage of the total amount of digitization emissions, it can cause a significant dent on companies’ carbon footprint. It’s important to understand how cloud computing effects your carbon footprint, so that you can seek out the most sustainable options. Cloud computing has numerous purposes from web hosting to data storage to machine learning, but the most basic principle is that customers purchase the ability to offload their computing workload to remote data centres instead of using their own infrastructure. The emissions relating to these services can be divided into four categories: the electricity consumption of servers, server cooling, the manufacturing of servers and cooling equipment and the employees working in the data centres.
Despite the emissions from cloud services, they are generally more efficient than on-premises servers, from a carbon point of view. This is because their workload is better optimised through the size of the providers, and cooling systems. The use of cloud computing has been instrumental in reducing the growth in energy use of digital industries; however, one downside is that it’s much harder to track. This is because of the distributed nature of cloud computing. Customers purchase services rather than the server itself, and their workload may then be spread across numerous servers, making the footprint of that workload difficult to calculate. What we can go by, is the price paid by individuals for their cloud servers, however this this only tells us about the quantity of equipment used, not how it is being used.
Which cloud providers are the greenest?
Most major cloud providers now communicate with their customers about their carbon footprint, as well as take action to reduce their own emissions. At eco-shaper, we use Microsoft Azure, who have implemented a carbon calculator within their software, however it’s only accessible to some users, which is a definite downside. Whilst it can provide an overall carbon emissions figure, its purpose is to demonstrate how Azure has saved its customers on emissions by using their software. Azure has also been 100% carbon neutral since 2012 and are looking to use 100% renewable energy by 2025.
Amazon (AWS) is a latecomer to the carbon journey and have only just implemented a carbon footprint tool for its users, which is still in production mode. Again, it seems to emphasise the emissions that the software saves, rather than giving an overall score. The same goes for Google Cloud and OVH, as they too provide carbon calculators for their users. Saying that, Azure and OVH are the only servers of the four mentioned here, that provide complete cradle to gate emissions of servers. When choosing your cloud server provider, it’s important to first research the tools available to you in calculating your emissions used through the software, as well as what the company is doing about its own emissions.
At eco-shaper, we drive action on climate change and streamline carbon footprinting. For example, we can help calculate emissions across the entire ecosystem that companies work across and produce automated reporting based on outcomes. It’s like Xero, for sustainability. Contact us to be part of our research group on