With sustainability moving up the list of business-critical priorities, cloud is now viewed as a crucial ally in driving success in this area across the IT industry and other sectors.
This was confirmed in a recent survey of 500 senior decision makers by HCLTech in partnership with FT Longitude, Cloud Evolution: Make innovation a habit, where 90 percent of executives agreed that cloud has helped them quickly respond to meeting sustainability targets.
ICT’s environmental impact
There is an urgent need to improve sustainability agendas and cloud is now seen as the vehicle to achieve this.
It’s estimated that the ICT sector contributes around four percent of global CO2 emissions and seven percent of global power consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to data centers and communications networks.
In addition, The ICT Industry generates approximately 50 million tons of e-waste, which is expected to increase to 120 million tons by 2050. The production of electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops and servers also require significant amounts of energy and natural resources.
As a significant contributor to global emissions itself, the ICT sector is in a unique position to address these challenges using technology and at the same time, help organizations in other industries achieve their sustainability targets.
“The exponential rise of data and computation and the increased energy and scares material demand is already triggering an environmental concern. Helping companies visualize this can create the desired awareness and action. An IT and cloud strategy inclusive of a sustainability strategy will be an efficient and resilient one,” says Santhosh Jayaram, Global Head of Sustainability at HCLTech.
The Global e-Sustainability Initiative estimates that ICT Industry could generate over $11 trillion in economic benefits per year by 2030, while enabling the world to cut its global emissions by 12,000 Mt-CO2eq across eight fields including smart buildings, smart mobility and more. Cloud is a key enabler in delivering this.
The role of cloud
“Cloud plays a significant role in changing the current dynamic to enable sustainable ecosystems,” says Piyush Saxena, SVP - Cloud Business & Offering Management, CloudSMART at HCLTech.
“It enables companies to store and access their data and applications over the internet, instead of having to maintain their own physical servers and infrastructure. Additionally, it brings efficiency through automation and just in time provisioning capabilities with event driven architectures/solutions,” he continues.
There are several areas that Saxena identifies where cloud is helping organizations meet their sustainability targets.
- Cloud helps companies scale down and power off their IT infrastructure based on their needs, which means that they can adjust their energy consumption to match their actual needs and avoid wasteful over-provisioning of IT resources. This can lead to unnecessary energy consumption and higher costs.
- By moving to cloud, organizations can reduce their hardware footprint and avoid the need to purchase and dispose of physical servers and equipment. This leads to a reduction in electronic waste and minimizes the environmental impact of hardware production and disposal.
- Cloud providers are investing heavily in renewable energy to power their operations. They are buying more green energy in billion Kilowatt (kW) levels leading to direct impact on emissions and committing to green data centers. They are able to achieve economies of scale and operate at a much larger scale than individual companies, leading to more efficient use of resources and reduced energy consumption.
Cloud-based AI/ML tools have enabled sustainable innovation by helping organizations identify areas where they can reduce their emissions and improve sustainability performance. For example, IBM has developed a weather forecasting system to help farmers make sustainable crop decisions.
“This business outcome is enabled by technologies like AI and ML, which are more accessible through cloud providers. Very few organizations would invest and develop their own next-generation technology tools,” says Saxena.
- Cloud providers are focusing on green software practices, where software design is based on principles of energy efficiency, hardware efficiency and carbon awareness.
Reducing scope 3 emissions with cloud
“Scope 3 emissions refer to indirect greenhouse gas emissions that occur throughout a company's value chain, including all emission from suppliers, customers and other stakeholders,” explains Saxena.
Scope 3 emissions account for more than 70 percent of a business’ carbon footprint. The GHG Protocol defines 15 categories of scope 3 emissions, including emissions both upstream and downstream of the organization’s activities.
“The challenge is that Scope 3 emissions can be difficult to track and reduce because they are outside of a company's direct control. Cloud can help reduce the greenhouse gas emission and enable organizations to track Scope 3 emissions with advanced capabilities,” says Saxena.
According to Saxena, these include:
- Cloud providers can provide real-time visibility and insight into the sourcing and work with the suppliers to ensure that they are using sustainable practices and reducing their emissions. This can include using renewable energy sources, reducing water and promoting circular economy principles.
- Cloud-based collaboration tools enable remote work and reduce the need for business travel and commuting, which is a major source of Scope 3 emission for many companies. By enabling remote work and collaboration, the cloud can help reduce emission associated with business travel. This can include video conferencing, file sharing and project management tools.
- With the advent of mobile technologies enabled by cloud, users are able to reduce the usage of end user devices, like laptops and desktops, and reduce their overall carbon footprint. Also, cloud-based AI/ML tools identify areas for organizations to reduce emissions and improve sustainability performance.
- Cloud consulting companies have started signing Green Power Purchase Agreements (Green PPAs) to help organizations identify cloud providers that are using reliable and certified green or renewable energy.
Building sustainable supply chains
Beyond reshaping ecosystems and helping reduce Scope 3 emissions, cloud can be used to build sustainable supply chains.
“Cloud-based solutions can help identify and optimize the supply chain by improving process efficiency, reducing waste and minimizing the use of natural resources. Cloud-based logistic solutions can optimize routes, reduce fuel consumption and lower carbon emissions,” says Saxena.
He points to the example of the work HCLTech is doing with Unitywater, who are using a data platform and cloud-based IoT solutions to manage unplanned outages and preventative maintenance to deliver reliable and clean drinking water and sewerage services. This has a significant impact on the environment and helps prevent water leakage.
There are several other ways cloud is enabling sustainable supply chains:
Cloud provides visibility and traceability across the supply chain to help drive sustainability.
Saxena refers to Walmart, who use cloud and AI-based systems through Microsoft Azure to track the sustainability of its suppliers and products, among many other technology-led initiatives across the business.
- Cloud-based platforms enable real time data sharing and collaboration among stakeholders, like manufacturer, supplier, distributor and retailers in the supply chain. Organizations can track products and material with greater accuracy by using solutions like AWS Data Exchange.
Cloud can enable organizations to monitor and report their sustainability performance across the supply chain. This can help organizations identify areas for improvement and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability to stakeholders.
Saxena highlights Google Cloud’s Carbon Sense suite that brings together features from multiple Google Cloud products, like Active Assist and Carbon Footprint, to help make better progress when it comes to sustainability.
Sustainable action with cloud
“Cloud is increasingly being used as a tool by organizations to take sustainable action. It can be used to help reduce their environmental impact, meet their sustainability objectives and reduce their carbon footprint. They are achieving sustainability by implementing cloud-based collaboration tools and reducing energy consumption by outsourcing their IT needs to providers that use renewable energy sources,” says Saxena.
According to a report by Global e-sustainability Initiative (GeSI), cloud and other technology solutions can help reduce global GHG emission by up to 16.5% by 2030.
Recognizing the crucial role of cloud in sustainability efforts, the HCLTech CloudSMART team has embedded sustainability into the core of every decision, offering, product and outcome. This enables clients to take responsible decisions toward environmental and societal impact, while continuously maintaining and increasing business growth.
The below CloudSMART solutions, benefit the following areas:
- IT Operational Efficiency – this enables the optimal use of human efforts though automation and process improvements.
- Equipment Efficiency – by choosing hyperscaler services that are specific for type of workloads with optimization during non-peak hours.
- Data Efficiency – this enables real time data analytics and insights for industry specific use cases pertaining to sustainability goals.
- Business Efficiency – allows organizations to re-imagine business processes and technology solutions to achieve sustainability goals along with business outcomes.
As an example of some of these HCLTech solutions in action, Saxena points to the Canada Skills Program, which has helped over 30,000 students achieve valuable Microsoft Certifications in cloud, data and AI, with a focus on sustainability.
In addition, he refers to HCLTech’s vendor agnostic Net Zero Intelligent Operations (NIO) tool by IoTWoRKS, which enables clients to monitor, assess and reduce enterprise energy consumption and carbon emissions through its unique ability to analyze multiple types of equipment, processes and facilities at once. NIO taps into digital twin and AI to achieve this and optimizes energy consumption.
Looking ahead, Saxena believes that the industry is advanced in terms of bringing in more cloud-based sustainability initiatives to end user organizations.
"However, the impact and value realization are still in the early stage of being reported. From an industry point of view that’s a gap, we’re not communicating the sustainability impact of the latest technologies or cloud initiatives. This needs to be improved. There is a very strong positive side of technology and the cloud when it comes to sustainability, which needs to be shared with the world through stories or use cases and data points supported by facts.”
To discover more insights from HCLTech’s cloud research, Cloud Evolution: Make innovation a habit, click here.