Environmental benefits of public cloud

Climate change presents one of the biggest environmental challenges our species has ever seen and as the impact is increasingly felt, it is becoming increasingly important for us all to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For many companies reducing impact on the environment is a cornerstone of their Corporate Social Responsibility policy.

Here we discuss how you can reduce GHG emissions by taking advantage of the operational efficiency, optimised datacentre management, and green energy sources offered by public cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.


Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry statistics on global emissions

Current published estimates find that ICT now accounts for about 4 percent of global electricity demand and 1.4 percent of global GHG emissions[i]. By 2040, the ICT sector is expected to exceed 14% of global emissions.[ii] This will place ICT far higher than the estimated emissions for aviation (5%) and on par with Livestock (14.5-18%) and Cars & trucks (15-20%)[iii]

In the technology sector, data centres are believed to have the largest growing carbon footprint, with a growth from 33% of the total ICT footprint in 2010 to 45% in 2020[iv]. Last year, globally, data centres used roughly 416 terawatts, or about 3% of the total electricity output. This equates to nearly 40% more than used by the entire United Kingdom. In the U.S. alone data centres use more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, this would need the entire output of roughly 34 giant (500-megawatt) coal-powered plants and this consumption is projected to double every four years.[v]

Supporting green efficiencies with public cloud

Providers of cloud services operate huge data centres with huge costs. As a result, they manage and continuously optimise data centres to make sure they use energy as efficiently as possible. This not only brings down costs, but also reduces their carbon footprint. Energy-efficiency of their operations is taken very seriously, both from an environmental and an economic standpoint. Hyperscale data centres drive efficiency in electricity requirements for overhead tasks such as lighting, cooling, and power conditioning.

Major cloud services providers (Microsoft Azure, AWS and Google) have some of the most efficient data centres in the world, using 50% less energy than the average data centre of similar size and activity. A study commissioned by AWS in 2019 estimates AWS’s infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the average US enterprise data centre. Workloads hosted on AWS perform the same task with an 88% lower carbon footprint than those in a traditional enterprise data centre[vi]. A Microsoft study from 2018 goes even further, stating Microsoft cloud is as much as 93 percent more energy efficient and as much as 98 percent more carbon efficient than on-premises solutions.[vii]


Public cloud operational efficiency

The large economies of scale seen in cloud computing mean that commercial cloud services in general can operate with much greater IT operational efficiency than smaller, on-premises deployments.

Dynamic provisioningEmphasis on application availability can lead to overprovisioning of computing resources to avoid theoretical unmet demand. Improved matching of server capacity with actual demand minimizes waste.

Multi-tenancy – Cloud infrastructure hosts thousands of companies and millions of users whose different use patterns can balance one another. This load diversity decreases overall fluctuations and makes loads more predictable.

Server utilisationHigher equipment utilisation rates mean the same amount of work can be done with fewer servers, which in turn leads to less electricity consumed per useful output. While servers running at higher utilisation rates consume more electricity, the overall performance gains more than offset the relative per-unit increase. The equipment runs leaner with a higher ratio of input energy going towards providing useful output than in traditional enterprise deployments.


Public cloud service providers and renewable energy

Consolidating distributed electricity demand from on-premises data centres into the cloud unlocks the potential for large-scale purchases of green power that bring substantial renewable energy projects onto the grid that were not otherwise viable.

Microsoft achieved its goals to grow the percent of wind, solar, and hydropower energy purchased directly and through the grid to 50 percent by 2018, The target for 2023 is 70%. In Jan 2020 Microsoft announced by 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.[viii]

Amazon AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for their global infrastructure by 2030. In May 2015 they announced that the AWS global infrastructure was powered by approximately 25% renewable energy and by January 2018 AWS achieved 50% renewable energy usage; they are on course to reach 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% renewable energy by 2030 (potentially as early as 2025), as well as to reach net zero carbon by 2040.[ix]

Google became carbon-neutral in 2007 and says it has now compensated for all of the carbon it has ever created.[x]

How can public cloud support your environmental initiatives?

Public cloud providers all claim significant energy and carbon emissions reduction potential from the use of their services when compared with on-premises data centres. Studies have shown that applications and data migrated to from server hardware hosted in on-premise data centres to the public cloud can deliver overall energy efficiency of over 90 percent.

Redcentric have tried and tested cloud migration process that can be tailored to your strategy. We have completed successful major migration projects of key business systems for clients including Heathrow Airport, Channel 4 and The White Company, amongst many others. The migration process focusses on delivering better performance, demand-based scaling, fine-grained cost management and improved business continuity.

To arrange an initial consultation with one of our cloud experts or to find out more about how Redcentric can work with you to begin your migration and modernisation process, and please contact sayhello@redcentricplc.com.



[i] Colin Cunliff (2020) – Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) “Beyond the Energy Techlash: The Real Climate Impacts of Information Technology” July 6th, 2020. https://itif.org/publications/2020/07/06/beyond-energy-techlash-real-climate-impacts-information-technology
[ii] Belkhir, Lotfi & Elmeligi, Ahmed. (2018). Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations. Journal of Cleaner Production. 177. 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.12.239.
[iii] Sims R., R. Schaeffer, F. Creutzig, X. Cruz-Núñez, M. D’Agosto, D. Dimitriu, M.J. Figueroa Meza, L. Fulton, S. Kobayashi, O. Lah, A. McKinnon, P. Newman, M. Ouyang, J.J. Schauer, D. Sperling, and G. Tiwari, 2014: Transport. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
[iv] Lotfi Belkhir, Ahmed Elmeligi (2018) “Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations” Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 177, Pages 448-463 doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.12.239
[v] Dr. Rado Danilak (2017) “ Why Energy Is A Big And Rapidly Growing Problem For Data Centers” https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/12/15/why-energy-is-a-big-and-rapidly-growing-problem-for-data-centers/?sh=360e1dd55a30
[vi] Daniel Bizo (2019) “The Carbon Reduction Opportunity of Moving to Amazon Web Services. 451 Research New York, NY, USA
[vii]Microsoft (2018 updated 2020) “The carbon benefits of cloud computing” https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/download/details.aspx?id=56950
[viii] Brad Smith (2020) “Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030“ https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2020/01/16/microsoft-will-be-carbon-negative-by-2030/
[ix] Amazon (2020) “We are all in on The Climate Pledge: net zero carbon by 2040” https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/sustainability/we-are-all-in-on-the-climate-pledge-net-zero-carbon-by-2040
[x] Google (2020) “Realizing a carbon-free future – Google’s Third Decade of Climate Action” https://www.gstatic.com/gumdrop/sustainability/carbon-free-by-2030.pdf

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