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How to build an environmental cloud sustainability strategy
Environmental sustainability continues to be a top 10 business priority for organisations. Here are the factors to consider when evaluating the environmental sustainability efforts of cloud providers
Environmental sustainability continues to be a top 10 business priority for organisations, according to Gartner’s 2023 CEO survey. With cloud computing often making up a significant portion of organisations’ carbon emissions, driving efficiency in datacentres and cloud infrastructure is an effective way to lower their environmental impact.
Gartner predicts 70% of organisations pursuing sustainability initiatives will leverage public cloud services to achieve environmental sustainability outcomes by 2026. Despite this, only a few currently include environmental benefits as a top priority when selecting a cloud service provider.
It can also be difficult for infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders to select a cloud partner that will help their organisations achieve sustainability goals as not all providers have the same level of sustainability maturity or ambition.
Gartner has found most organisations’ timelines to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are no earlier than 2030, yet cloud contracts are typically around three years. Shifting between cloud service providers is long, complex and costly – and therefore unlikely.
When evaluating cloud providers, enterprises must consider the material sustainability performance issues now and undertake careful analysis of providers’ current environmental sustainability efforts and roadmap.
Factors to consider
Before engaging with any cloud service provider, I&O leaders must understand their own organisation’s sustainability objectives, targets and timelines. This will help identify providers aligned to their goals and recognise opportunities to help achieve them.
The most critical question to ask cloud service providers is how, and by how much, they’ll reduce emissions associated with cloud services consumed during the contract period. Transparency is a key indicator of commitment to sustainability goals, so a provider’s reluctance to provide this information should be considered a warning sign.
Another key consideration is to be wary of a one-off showcase datacentre being presented as representative of normal practice. Instead, ask the provider about the datacentres specific to the regions where cloud services are being consumed.
Consider the certifications these datacentres hold and their certification roadmap. Third-party energy efficiency certifications can demonstrate a cloud provider’s level of basic capability and commitment to its sustainability goals.
Other factors to consider are the power usage effectiveness (PUE) of air conditioning and power distribution infrastructure; the water usage effectiveness (WUE) in cooling datacentres; and the circularity practices for waste reduction. Find out what percentage of energy consumed relevant to the organisation’s consumption of cloud services comes from renewable resources.
Public cloud regions powered by renewable energy can reduce GHG emissions by 70% to 90%, compared to traditional legacy data centres powered by fossil fuel energy.
Hyperscalers are some of the biggest consumers of renewable energy in the world, so ask them about their short, medium and long-term targets for renewable energy consumption specific to the regions where the cloud services are being consumed. The same is true for understanding how cloud service providers report and manage GHG emissions.
Why is this important?
Gartner predicts CEOs will not merely respond to customer, investor and regulator demands, but will seize on sustainability as a transformational change catalyst to yield productivity improvement through waste reduction, product innovation, climate adaptation and employee and customer engagement.
Avoid getting caught up in a provider’s “headline grabbing” net-zero or carbon-neutral targets and renewable energy numbers. Instead, focus on the merits of their sustainability credentials – efforts that materially reduce GHG emissions, increase energy efficiency and asset utilisation, and add net new renewable energy capacity.
Autumn Stanish is senior principal analyst at Gartner
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