Cloud and sustainability: your journey is only just beginning

Most companies I encounter are migrating on premises workloads to the cloud and they are enjoying the cost savings. According to recent Accenture research with Canadian companies, 30 per cent of workloads are now in the cloud, and that percentage is expected to double within five years. Another report by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) reports that 72 per cent of respondents have lowered their overall IT costs via cloud infrastructure utilization.  

Beyond cost-savings, cloud can help drive sustainability goals as well. According to the same Accenture report, Canadian businesses are three times more likely than businesses elsewhere in North America to use the cloud to switch to using green energy sources, architect lower power consumption, and utilize servers better for a lower energy footprint. Indeed, cloud migration is a huge opportunity for companies working toward carbon neutrality.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) migrations can reduce carbon emissions by more than 84 per cent compared with conventional infrastructure. The AWS report also notes that 58 per cent of midmarket and enterprise-sized organizations rely on IaaS. On a global basis, Accenture’s analysis suggests migrations to the public cloud can reduce carbon (CO2) emissions by 59 million tons per year. This represents a 5.9 per cent reduction in total IT emissions, and equates to taking 22 million cars off the road.   

There is more than can be done, and green coding is the next burgeoning area.

Code design is the next frontier in sustainability 

Sustainable coding involves designing and building applications to be cloud-native and to take full advantage of on-demand computing, higher asset utilization rates, and dynamic allocation of computing resources. It’s about reducing the emissions that an application is responsible for, either by using less electricity or less physical hardware, or finding lower carbon sources of electricity for processing.   

A 2019 study estimated that computations required for deep learning research increased 300,000 times from 2012 to 2018. With limited resources, companies need to prioritize which applications will deliver the biggest carbon benefit when it comes to sustainable development efforts and make intentional choices that consider cost, performance and sustainability. 

Getting started on the green software journey  

For companies who are serious about an environmentally sustainable future, here are three actions to consider: 

  • Embed sustainable software as a mindset in the organization. Every company should embed green software in its ESG strategy. These are concepts not yet taught in universities, so it will take a focused talent transformation effort to raise awareness and put sustainability at the core of the software engineering process. Just getting teams understanding and using the same terminology is a great first step. 
  • Collaborate with partners trained in green software engineering. Companies are investing heavily in skilling developers to design, build, and deploy software that is optimized for sustainability and performance objectives. This expertise will be hard for companies outside of the software industry to build and sustain in-house. Consider engaging with a partner that can help to link IT and sustainability strategies to train and engage internal teams.  
  • Start with the low hanging fruit. Once a company looks at sustainability through the lens of software, it’s not difficult to find low hanging fruit that require minimal investment to tackle. For example, identify non-essential functionality in applications. If it’s barely used, it can be eliminated to reduce software size. With new software projects, attempt to apply the green software engineering principles and learn as you go.  

Sustainability and business performance are now inextricably linked. Companies with consistently high ESG performance enjoy much higher operating margins than low ESG performers, even in times of market volatility. 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Jennifer Jackson
Jennifer Jackson
Jennifer runs the Canadian Technology and Cloud First business for Accenture in Canada. Based in Toronto, she has 20+ years of experience in business and technology transformation projects and is also the Mental Health Employee Resource Group (ERG) executive sponsor for Canada.

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