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Leadership / Sustainability

The role of cloud computing in the journey to net zero

CIOs from Hiscox, Compass Group and RSA Group share how cloud adoption is helping them cut their IT-related carbon emissions.

Switching to cloud computing, it is generally agreed, can help organisations minimise the carbon footprint from their IT infrastructure and hit net zero targets faster. But as with all sustainability initiatives, IT organisations must assess cloud providers’ sustainability claims carefully, and ensure they are using cloud as efficiently as possible.

As part of the recent Making Sense of Net Zero event series, Tech Monitor was joined by David Germain, group CIO at multinational insurance company RSA Group, Craig Charlton, group CIO at contract foodservice firm Compass Group, and Ian Penny, CIO at insurance provider Hiscox, who discussed how cloud adoption can help organisations achieve their net zero goals.

Register to view this and other full sessions from Making Sense Of Net Zero.

The role of technology leaders

Tech leaders, including CIOs and other IT executives, can take a leading role in contributing to the net zero goals of their organisations. Switching their on-premise applications to the public cloud is one of them, the panellists of the group agreed.

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Although green credentials weren’t a priority for Compass Group when it started its journey to the cloud five years ago, the move paid dividends by reducing carbon emissions, said Charlton.

“When we set out to do that journey, we didn’t actually consider green credentials, to be honest,” Charlton admitted. “So what we’ve actually found is it’s been much more a positive consequence of the strategies and actions that we’ve taken over the last few years to move approximately about 80% of our workloads into public cloud. And clearly, you get a huge benefit in reduction of carbon footprint as well as various other consequences, which are very positive.”

Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which cover the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that a company makes directly or indirectly, are very much within the IT department’s control, added Charlton, therefore technology leaders should be considering what they are doing with regards to technology services.

“We’re learning an awful lot about it and I think it’s going to become much more important in the role of the CIO and technology leaders as we move forward,” Charlton said.

How to measure progress

The panel also spoke about the need to introduce metrics within organisations to increase accountability and transparency of net zero initiatives. According to a report by data centre research firm Uptime Institute, most organisations are still not tracking the environmental footprint of their operations and data centres.

In 2020, Google announced its goal to operate on carbon-free energy by 2030. To measure the progress of this initiative, the company introduced a publicly available metric that indicates how clean Google’s ‘cloud regions’ are around the world. Called the carbon-free energy percentage (CFE%), the figure shows the average mix of carbon-free and fossil-fuel energy that is used to power Google’s data centres in each of its cloud regions.

“I’m always looking for benchmarks… I’m always looking at annual reports to understand if there’s anything in there around emissions and percentage reduction year-on-year,” said Germain. “It’s the ‘how?’. Because this is all about the electricity grids and power consumption and how you are changing your power consumption, what are you architecting within your facilities to change how you use power.”

Charlton added that at present there is not enough industry information available that companies could use to benchmark themselves. “There’s an awful lot of different metrics out there and they are used in various different ways,” he said. “I think you’ve really got to get under the skin of it. Some of the cloud providers have fantastic dashboards that you can easily access and calculate your own green credentials with them.”

Additional benefits of switching to the cloud

In addition to reducing carbon footprint, switching to the public cloud can have a positive impact on the overall efficiency of a company.

Instead of taking the approach of migrating on-premises applications to the cloud and replicating the same inefficiencies in a different environment, companies should consider the elasticity that cloud brings, said Hiscox’s Penny. Once a business starts using the platform services, database environments and other applications that come with the cloud, the benefits will start to show.

“The whole ethos behind cloud computing is very much one around elasticity. It’s very much one around capability when you need it,” he said. “If you embrace cloud computing correctly and by that I mean you use more SaaS-based services… then you gain the real benefits of this.

“The more you’re able to use these higher-order services, the more efficiency you’re able to get and the more elasticity you’re able to get into your application set as well.”

Register to view this and other full sessions from Making Sense Of Net Zero.

Home page image by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/iStock

Cristina Lago

Associate editor

Cristina Lago is associate editor of Tech Monitor.