Cloud providers’ data centers are energy-intensive, and the electricity used to run them generates greenhouse gas emissions: primarily carbon dioxide, which is tied to global warming.
“Consumers, employees, investors and policymakers are demanding that organizations prioritize sustainability and be transparent about the impact they’re having on the environment and the progress they’re making on their sustainability initiatives,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said during the cloud provider’s inaugural Sustainability Summit last month.
For cloud customers, it comes down to “map, measure, reduce,” said Christopher Wellise, AWS’ director of sustainability. Customers need to map their operational boundaries, use tools to measure the carbon impact and then create targets and strategies for reduction.
“Then it’s look for ways to transform their own business — what products are they innovating, what are their customers looking for — and begin to embed sustainability into their innovation practices,” Wellise told Protocol.
Christopher Wellise, AWS’ director of sustainabilityPhoto: AWS
It’s unclear how last month’s Supreme Court ruling, which limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, will impact enterprises’ plans. But the Securities and Exchange Commission unveiled proposed rule changes in March that would force public companies to make certain climate-related risk disclosures, including their emissions, to provide greater transparency for investors.
Either way, certain large multinational companies and financial institutions doing business or investing capital in Europe still face sustainability requirements under EU rules, even if they’re U.S.-based, according to Elisabeth Brinton, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of sustainability.
“The EU made their jurisdictional authority for sustainability very similar to GDPR and privacy,” Brinton told Protocol. “So the market and where we have to go in terms of enabling not only carbon emissions reductions, but then across ESG more broadly, actually flows through and across to the U.S. companies that are global. It touches down into your cost centers, regardless of where they are.”
Here’s a look at how the Big Three cloud providers have been moving toward their carbon goals and helping customers decarbonize their applications and infrastructure, and how other technology companies are jumping into the business.
Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge in 2019, committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions across its businesses by 2040, including plans to power its operations with 100% renewable energy.
“We have a 2030 target of reaching 100% renewable energy, but we’re actually five years ahead of schedule,” Wellise said.
Amazon bills itself as the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. It’s announced more than 310 renewable projects globally, including wind and solar farms, that it says will have the capacity to deliver more than 42,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually – enough to power more than 3.9 million U.S. homes per year.
Enterprises can start to reduce their carbon emissions just by moving their workloads from on-premises data centers to the cloud, according to Wellise.
“There are big benefits, obviously, just moving into cloud primarily, and then there are some things we’re doing once you’re within cloud to help optimize workloads for customers, which further drives down their carbon footprint,” he said.
On the demand side, AWS designed its own semiconductor chips to run specific workloads and further drive energy efficiencies in its data center infrastructure, Wellise noted. …….