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Cloud computing holds the promise of many technological advances that will impact society in a myriad of ways. There are definite economic advantages to leveraging the power of the cloud. Sometimes overlooked are the environmental benefits that may accrue from taking advantage of the cloud computing paradigm. 

The economies of scale associated with cloud computing as well as a shift in how businesses address their intellectual capital have opened the door to more environmentally friendly means of providing the world’s IT support. Let’s take a look at some specific examples.

Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Production and Energy Consumption

A report co-authored by Microsoft and WSP identifies four ways in which the company’s cloud computing environment works to reduce energy use and minimize the effects of greenhouse gas on the world’s climate. They are:

  • Operational efficiency - Through processes such as dynamic provisioning, multi-tenancy, and optimized server utilization, cloud installations provide large scale operational efficiencies when compared to individual on-premises data centers. 
  • Equipment efficiency - Cloud providers can make use of specialized and efficient IT equipment which can lead to a reduction in electricity use by over 10 percent.
  • Data center infrastructure efficiency - Power usage effectiveness (PUE) is a measurement of how efficiently a data center uses electricity. Hyperscale data centers such as those employed by cloud providers strive to reduce power consumption in lighting, cooling, and other areas of infrastructure support. 
  • Renewable electricity - The consolation that occurs by moving on-premises data centers to the cloud paves the way for large-scale purchases of renewable energy.


Paper Reduction for Businesses

Data storage is one of the basic cloud offerings that alleviate the need for businesses to maintain their own storage arrays. A further step that many businesses are adopting is to go paperless wherever they can. Employing cloud-based technologies like DocuSign enable contracts to be signed and stored electronically without ever needing to be translated to paper. The paper industry is a notorious polluter so any reduction in paper use is a benefit to the environment.

Remote Workforce

One of the major selling points of the cloud is the ability to access your data from any location. This fact enables businesses to allow their employees to work remotely while maintaining the same functionality as if they were in an office. This reduces auto emissions and can lead to the business reducing the size of their physical footprint with commensurate savings in cooling, heating, and energy use.

Keeping Tabs on Cloud Providers

Rather than accept the claims of cloud providers on face value, savvy environmental groups have been monitoring the industry for years. Greenpeace is one of the organizations which has kept an eye on cloud providers and pressures them to increase their use of renewable energy. Their latest report was completed in 2017 and grades companies based on their commitment to using renewable energy to power their datacenters. 

Their findings show that Apple, Google, and Facebook are among the leaders in the drive toward the goal of using 100% renewable energy to power their IT infrastructures. Holding these giant corporations accountable for their energy use is key toward ensuring that the future of cloud computing minimizes any negative impacts on the environment. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 May 2019
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 Robert Agar

I am a freelance writer who graduated from Pace University in New York with a Computer Science degree in 1992. Over the course of a long IT career I have worked for a number of large service providers in a variety of roles revolving around data storage and protection. I currently reside in northeastern Pennsylvania where I write from my home office.

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