The pressure on businesses across the economy to operate sustainably and ethically has grown significantly in recent years – and the professional services sector is no exception.
The UK recently hosted world leaders at the 26th UN Climate Summit – also known as COP26 at one of the biggest global meetings dedicated to tackling the climate crisis. Here, countries presented their plans to cut emissions. Together, these plans need to set the world on track to stop global temperatures rising more than 1.5ºC by the end of the century.
The good news is that many businesses already have clearly stated ESG (environmental, social and governance) policies and targets. We talk to lots of professional services businesses about how they can use technology to improve their performance in this area and reduce their carbon footprint.
Technology has created a thunderstorm
Technology has profoundly shaped society, the economy and the environment. We can’t deny that it has caused many environmental and social problems, but it is also key to addressing environmental degradation, climate change, food scarcity, waste management, and other pressing global challenges. It is important to continue making progress in reducing our impact on the environment around us as well as the environments we are sourcing from. Efficiency is increasing, and the use of renewable energy is very much on the rise, but we still have a long way to go.
But the cloud has a silver lining
Although the impact and benefits of the cloud have been traditionally measured with financial and efficiency metrics, it has become more common for clients to seek understanding about how the cloud can help them achieve their sustainability and environmental goals.
Contrary to concerns about the environmental impact of cloud computing and the technology sector, migrating IT functions to the cloud can achieve reductions in total IT carbon emissions of 5.9% — or nearly 60 million tons of CO2 globally per year — according to recent research. Such a reduction would be equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road!
Studies suggest large organizations can reduce per-user carbon footprints by 30% and small companies by up to 90%. Additional research shows total cost of ownership savings from migrating to the public cloud of 30-40%, driven by greater workload flexibility, better server utilization rates, and more energy-efficient infrastructure.
How does cloud support the green agenda?
- Modern technology is energy efficient
Energy-saving equipment can be expensive which is one of the reasons why businesses are turning to organizations that are in a better position to buy and use the latest technology which invariably is more energy efficient. A hyper-scale cloud vendor (like Microsoft) has substantial R&D budgets to ensure they reduce carbon emissions and be more energy efficient than most organizations could achieve with their own on-premises datacentres for the same workload.
A Microsoft study revealed energy efficiency improvements – from 22% to 93% – when switching from traditional enterprise datacentres to the Microsoft Cloud. Microsoft supports all the UN goals around sustainability with its primary focus on environmental sustainability in four key areas: carbon, water, waste, and ecosystems. Back in January 2020, they announced a bold commitment and a detailed plan to operate with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and be carbon negative by 2030.
- Performance is scaled as and when it is needed
Cloud data centres are fit for purpose with measures often put in place to provide energy efficient back-up power and cooling. Most businesses won’t use the full capacity of their server, so there’s more chance of under-utilized hardware simply sitting there wasting energy. When you turn to the cloud, your utilization rate is much higher as server capacity is shared between businesses. That means there is less overall energy wastage.
- Cloud means less hardware
Moving your business software to the cloud is more energy efficient as you no longer need electricity-guzzling dedicated infrastructure to allow you to access email or CRM systems. Fewer servers and virtual services mean less equipment and power, which save energy. A win-win for the environment and your electric bill.
- Reduced power consumption and carbon emissions
The Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio divides the total power for the IT infrastructure by the total power used by your data centre. It is commonly used as a metric to demonstrate how green a data centre is. Basically, a low PUE score means a data centre is using most of its energy to power computation directly. It indicates power is being used in an efficient way, rather than splurged on things like cooling. Cloud computing often allows data centres to achieve a lower PUE ratio.
Managing and processing data on a local server is significantly less eco-friendly as these servers often produce significant carbon emissions. Data centres account for a hefty proportion of electricity consumption, so swapping them for a public cloud provider is a much better option for the planet.
- Agile working will continue
Cloud-based technology helps employees to work anytime, anywhere. Remote and hybrid working is not a new concept for many businesses but was certainly accelerated where it was not yet implemented, as a result of COVID.
We know that business travel in the legal and construction sector, for example, is an integral part of the way these companies have operated and was in many ways seen as essential to keep up good client relationships. But 2020 showed us that virtual meetings can be a true alternative moving forward – at least to some extent.
Businesses are seeing great advantages to their bottom line as a result of remote working; from being able to recruit talent from a wider pool, to reducing office space, office costs, and of course reducing daily commutes and the associated carbon emissions.
- Use cloud to think smarter
Technology can contribute to addressing environmental issues. Many businesses are looking at how they can use technology to not just drive traditional business value, but how to enable smarter, more sustainable solutions.
Innovation in data acquisition and analytics, coupled with artificial intelligence and advanced robotics have opened the door to many interesting (and green) solutions. This is optimizing decision making and driving efficiencies, ultimately saving carbon and energy.
An interesting example of where this is developing is Imazon – a non-profit based in Brazil. Imazon uses artificial intelligence and azure cloud services to prototype deforestation risk and prevent further losses to the Amazon rainforest.
Machine learning is being used in the ‘Ocean clean-up project’ to learn, identify, and simulate where plastic pollution will end up and how it will impact our environment.
Time to change?
Migrating your infrastructure to the cloud is usually a no-brainer for companies looking to make long-term savings, improve performance, increase scalability, and reduce their carbon footprint. However, moving to the cloud can be a daunting prospect.
At sa.global, we have a team of specialists who have implemented Microsoft technologies across 80 countries for over 30+ years. We have also built out-of-the-box applications to speed up and reduce the complexity of projects, ensuring a faster time to value.
Get in touch to find out how we can support your organization become a cloud-first business.