The ‘S’ word is gaining increased airtime in organisations business strategy and risk registers, and no I’m not talking about security!

Cloud and digital are presenting new avenues for addressing sustainability challenges. / Aerial view of road next to Lake Pukaki, Mt Cook, South Island, New Zealand.

As the world continues to grapple with a pandemic, we’re increasingly seeing extreme weather events and natural disasters sharing the front pages. As cities and countries around the world, including our own, declare climate change emergencies, and community action and pressure grows, the focus on sustainability is picking up pace.

Sustainability is a topic we’re seeing appear more often in business strategies and discussions but probably still not often enough. It is certainly often lacking in technology, cloud, and digital strategies, business cases, and planning.

I find this interesting as cloud and digital can provide significant benefits when it comes to addressing sustainability challenges and targets.

Of course, there is an argument to be made that technology itself drives carbon emissions, but we also must acknowledge that greater technology use is a requirement to be relevant for most organisations and, in itself, can be a key enabler in delivering operational efficiencies and for innovation in monitoring and solving sustainability challenges.

Benefit realisation

So where are sustainability benefits of cloud and digital likely to be realised?

Not running your own infrastructure and facilities is a great starting point.

Migrating to cloud and consuming rather than procuring and running infrastructure minimises your logistics and supply chain burden, reduces your own facilities and energy footprint, and – if done properly – removes under-utilisation of resources that is often found in on-premises infrastructure deployments.

Cloud providers can often reduce energy consumption, waste, and carbon emissions more effectively due to their scale and commitments to sustainability innovation, driving significant energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources.

Indeed, hyperscale cloud providers have set and are meeting significant sustainability targets that are still pipe dreams for many other businesses.

Microsoft claim they have been carbon neutral across its global operations since 2012 and have committed to being carbon negative by 2030. Furthermore, by 2050 Microsoft intends to “remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.”

Similarly, Amazon Web Services (AWS) claim they are focused on a path to powering their operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. And Google Cloud claim to be carbon neutral today with a goal to run on carbon-free energy at all data centres by 2030.

Sustainability benefits are not just found in cloud infrastructure though: how you consume and develop applications can also provide flow on benefits.

Software as a Service (SaaS) based cloud applications reduce your own cloud infrastructure usage and provide efficiency of scale by allowing use by many people – all from the same underlying technology.

Crucially, many SaaS based applications are focused on driving increased productivity, collaboration, and work from anywhere approaches that reduce the need to travel and thus assist in further reducing a significant carbon footprint for many businesses. COVID-19 has shown the art of the possible in this regard.

An example of more sustainable application design is in developing applications to consume serverless rather than dedicated compute services. The concept around serverless is to only utilise compute resources when required, and automatically de-allocate those resources after completion which further helps to drive infrastructure efficiencies.

Applying technology to sustainability challenges

However, it is in the digital and emerging technology realms where sustainability challenges can really be addressed. Whilst research is still emergent, some recent reports have even suggested 20% of global carbon emissions can be cut through digital technology. And according to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, GeSI, technology has the potential to contribute to all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – including over 50% of the 169 sub targets.

The solutions are endless and often specific to your organisation and industry but whether you are leveraging Internet of Things (IoT), computer vision, AI and Machine Learning to track, monitor and respond to usage, quality, and emissions metrics there are gains from better data insights and business decisions.

These technologies, together with the likes of robotic process automation (RPA) can be leveraged to create more efficient operations, and sustainable and innovative solutions such as optimisation of building, infrastructure, and manufacturing operations or working to restore our oceans, forests, and wildlife and develop more sustainable agriculture practices.

And this is only scratching the surface. Sustainability is a complex and broad-ranging topic that encompasses all walks of life and technology areas, which organisations need to start thinking about today. How are you addressing sustainability in your business and technology plans? And are you leveraging cloud and digital to maximise not only common business benefits, but your sustainability needs as well?

Talk to us about how our transformation solutions can help your organisation.

Mike Walls, Director Cloud Transformation, Leaven