• Adrian Bradley, Partner |
3 min read

Adrian Bradley, KPMG’s Head of Cloud Transformation, explores how organisations can enhance the sustainability of their cloud infrastructures.

Around 1 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide come from organisations’ datacentres. That figure needs to halve if we’re to reach net zero by 2030.

The good news is, datacentres are becoming more energy-efficient – particularly those hosted in the cloud. Hyperscale public cloud platforms are largely powered by reusable energy. And of course, the cloud is a shared resource, which is by definition a more energy-efficient model.

But there’s bad news too. Enterprise IT consumption is going in the wrong direction: increasing by up to 1.8 per cent per year. That’s 10-30 per cent more emissions annually. Cloud platforms bear some responsibility for this, as it’s very easy to scale up technology use in the cloud. Engineers can make decisions knowing that there’s infinite scalability.

Clearly, rising consumption is a trend we need to reverse. But too few organisations are seriously monitoring the sustainability of their IT infrastructures. As a result, many of them are below par.

Three steps to sustainability

An energy-efficient cloud environment doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something you have to work at.

From our experience of helping businesses model their technology’s carbon footprint, KPMG has identified three golden rules of cloud sustainability. We call them the ‘three M’s’:

1) Measure what you need to manage

Calculating and tracking your datacentre’s emissions is the first step to reducing them. It gives you visibility of what you need to achieve, and how.

What’s more, a granular understanding of your footprint will help to overcome a common bias. When setting up technology environments, engineering teams tend to prioritise quantitative outcomes, such as speed of deployment and throughput. If you want them to focus on qualitative metrics like sustainability, then measure what you need to manage.

2) Minor interventions, major outcomes

Some approaches to reducing technology emissions are far-reaching and disruptive. But there are some relatively small interventions that can significantly improve sustainability.

Data retention policies, for example, can be fine-tuned to reduce how much storage you need. Without clear rules on what to retain, engineers may err on the side of caution, and default to keeping everything indefinitely.

Changing your coding language can also reap dividends. Rust and C are 50 per cent more carbon-efficient than Java, and 98 per cent more so than Python. Yet Python is far more widely used, thanks to its greater accessibility (given the range and depth of libraries available).

3) More than sustainability

A sustainable cloud offers benefits beyond energy efficiency.

Firstly, it’s a more cost-effective cloud. Managing sustainability means controlling consumption, which goes hand-in-hand with more cost-effective architectures.

I’d also suggest that it’s a safer cloud. There’s no absolute link between the two, but companies diligent enough to prioritise sustainability tend to apply the same mindset to cybersecurity. They’re more willing to invest in the latest security controls and automation technology, which are readily available in the cloud.

These factors are important when securing buy-in for cloud sustainability initiatives. CTOs may be more willing to listen to cost savings and cybersecurity improvements than reduced emissions. Especially when IT is the source of a fraction of the carbon footprint of an organisation’s supply chain.

Final word

Ultimately, businesses embrace the cloud for its transformational capabilities, which can help them achieve their mission and objectives. But that shouldn’t be considered incompatible with the responsible consumption of technology.

On the contrary: sustainability needs to be at the heart of how firms establish, configure and use their digital infrastructures.