How to choose the greenest cloud

The internet is one of the fastest growing users of energy on Earth. It’s quite hard to estimate its size, but some place it at around 3-5% of the entire world’s energy use. This would be more than the entire aviation sector. A good amount of any CO2 footprint comes from your choices in business apps, computing or data storage. It can be simple to reduce or neutralise that impact, however. 

Choosing the company adding the least carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is the surest way to tackle IT’s CO2 impact. Cloud companies provide business apps (Microsoft Teams, Google Mail etc.) or services to host IT infrastructure & store data. Google is the clear leader at 100% (technically matched) renewable energy. Google is the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy too, and their huge lobbying machine has been used for good top change law in Taiwan and the US, to buy renewable power at scale. Although all 5 companies are ‘carbon neutral’ through offsets, actually using renewable energy is better than offsetting. and much harder.

But what if you’re locked into AWS, Azure, Oracle or IBM products? It’s not all bad news. Every provider has different locations, sometimes you can choose which your services use. AWS has 24 locations, for example, and 5 are powered sustainably. If you use AWS console, you can check if your location is sustainable with this Chrome extension. Oracle lags globally, but claims to have 100% renewable energy power in locations in Europe. As business becomes cloud-based (email, documents, chat), it becomes more important to think about the environment impact.

For software engineering companies, this matters more. Building applications and models needing a lot of resources will pull more energy into a data center. Moving on to a cloud is one way to reduce this – over 90% of businesses with still own servers – inevitably a cloud provider can save energy and cost compared to individuals. But carbon footprint, along with dollar cost, is a strong argument for better managing your infrastructure. It’s hard to generalise, but many companies using cloud could hugely optimise their costs with techniques like autoscaling, containerisation, and serverless. The planet is now a very strong argument for investing in better infrastructure management, even if you are a Google customer.