Event round-up: Cloud and Climate Change - Computing in a more sustainable world
On 4 May 2022, techUK hosted an online panel discussion on the potential for cloud computing to enable a more sustainable net-zero future.
The panel included:
- Helen Gerling, CEO of Shaping Cloud
- Glen Robinson, National Technology Officer for Microsoft UK
- Gareth Workman, Head of Cloud Practice at Kainos
- Tanaz Gould, Commercial and Solutions Director at Claranet
- (Chair) Chris Hazell, Programme Manager for Cloud at techUK
You can watch the full webinar here, or read our summary of the key insights below:
Please note that the below is a summary of the event, and readers are encouraged to watch the webinar to understand the full details of the discussion.
Chris opened the event by asking the panel how they saw the cloud industry responding to the climate challenge.
Helen suggested that the main benefit of cloud for many enterprise organisations will be outsourcing their environmental targets for digital services to cloud providers with an established sustainability strategy.
Glen set out Microsoft’s transition from carbon neutrality in 2012 to carbon negative by 2030. Glen argued that with the demands on technology increasing exponentially, the cloud market can’t continue to scale as it has been without a drastic rethink of how to deliver a sustainable cloud.
Tanaz highlighted the huge investment in sustainable innovation by large cloud providers and how partnering with a cloud provider can help organisations meet carbon reduction targets. Tanaz also pointed out that customers have a shared responsibility for sustainability and if cloud providers are taking care of the infrastructure component, then customers must focus on what runs on the cloud.
Gareth agreed that hyperscalers offer a depth of investment and capability that individual businesses will not be able to match, but organisations can take advantage of the tools available to build and run more efficient and sustainable applications. Gareth also argued that using carbon data from the cloud provider to make informed decisions is key to achieving sustainable cloud.
Making it everyone’s responsibility
Chris asked the panel how they are encouraging and driving sustainability within the businesses and through the supply chain.
Tanaz said that COP26 triggered a lot of conversations within the industry about sustainability and the impact of digital technology on the climate crisis. There is a real opportunity for the industry to counter its own carbon contributions as it continues to grow, and to engage with customers on this issue.
Helen pointed out that cloud-enabled digital transformation can help businesses cut carbon footprint associated with the office and commuting by enabling more remote working. Helen also suggested that while everyone can agree on the need to be responsible and sustainable with our use of limited resources, it ultimately comes down to questions about how to act and what will it cost – fortunately, innovation is bringing down the cost of more sustainable choices.
Glen explained that building transparency through a set of tools to map carbon costs and being able to report on that data through a common baseline standard has been the first step. Microsoft is now using internal carbon taxes on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions to focus attention on sustainability across the business.
Gareth argued that businesses don’t need to wait for a perfect plan before addressing sustainability – focus on what you can do today and then iterate!
Procurement and consumer behaviour driving transformation
Chris invited the panel to comment on how the industry is measuring and reporting on carbon and sustainability metrics associated with applications running in the cloud.
Gareth argued that the industry has made a good start but there is a long way to go, particularly on consistency across Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Gareth also pointed out there is increasing demand for ethical and sustainable products and services and people want to make informed purchasing choices.
Glen agreed there has been a big shift in consumer behaviour and people are looking to address the sustainability and climate challenge. This is reflected in procurement frameworks with social value metrics and procurement conversations focused on transparency on sustainability. Glen also agreed that there is still work to do across the industry and suggested there is a role for governments to provide a unified standard on carbon reporting.
Tanaz suggested that the industry should aim to take the same approach with carbon efficiency as it does with financial efficiency when assessing operations and applications in the cloud, and this could then inform procurement choices.
Helen pointed out that the Government has already acted to address concerns about greenwashing by setting out proposals for environmental reporting standards in financial services, which could also drive change across the economy through greener investment decisions. Helen also argued that the measures on sustainability in public procurement need to improve over time.
From FinOps to GreenOps
Chris asked the panel if we have enough green skills in the industry fully address these sustainability challenges.
Glen argued that a lot of the skills we need already exist in the industry because change will be driven by the finances and economics of cloud, and many of the reporting processes will be similar. Glen suggested that the same cloud native design best practices that businesses already strive for are fundamental to a more sustainable cloud.
Tanaz agreed that design choices are important and explained the technical design communities that Claranet has been building to collate best practice on sustainability. Tanaz pointed out that many new graduates or people from elsewhere in the industry may not come with that knowledge of sustainable software development. Tanaz also discussed the concept of GreenOps and how sustainability costs can be built into the development cycle.
Gareth explained that many Kainos customers have a real desire to understand the carbon impact of their technology choices and learn from best practice developed across the industry.
Glen pointed out that Scope 3 emissions are the hardest to address and require strategic partnerships and supplier codes of conduct that allow more detailed and comprehensive business choices to help solve this challenge.
techUK - Committed to Climate Action
Digital transformation is critical to the decarbonisation journey of organisations in every sector. Across supply chains and sectors, industries are converging with tech partners to find innovations that reduce carbon emissions and unlock efficiencies that drive down energy use. techUK focuses on the application of emerging technologies and data-driven decision making in traditional forms of infrastructure to deliver innovative environmental outcomes. For more information on our Climate, Environment and Sustainability Programme, please visit our Climate Action Hub and click ‘contact us’.