Each cloud has a green lining
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How changing digital habits come into play
According to McKinsey & Company, we have seen the digital transformation accelerate seven years earlier than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also showed an acceleration of seven years, on average, of companies creating digital or digitally enhanced offerings. Instead of this change being driven by B2B or B2C companies, it is more driven by those with or without physical products. The report states that “the increases reported are much larger in healthcare and pharmacy, financial services and professional services, where executives are reporting a jump almost twice as large as those reported in CPG companies.”
To further strengthen this acceleration, a recent IBM study suggested that the pandemic “has accelerated digital transformation by 59%”. 60% of those surveyed also said COVID-19 “has adjusted our approach to managing change” and “has accelerated process automation,” with 64% acknowledging a shift to more cloud-based business activities.
McKinsey & Company followed up on its digital transformation report with a survey of digital consumption habits, which saw a 20% growth in “all digital” users in the six months ending April 2021. Unsurprisingly, the survey showed a slight decrease in online activity once the world got out of lockdown for sectors such as clothing, general retail and grocery, where physical experiences are always valued by consumers. But this slight decrease is minimal compared to the increase in the overall global digital footprint – in developed and developing countries.
Whether at home, in the office, at work or not, our lives are now almost entirely digital, with an increasing number of the technologies and applications we use daily being cloud-based. But, as mentioned above, every aspect of modern computing comes with a carbon price. With more and more people using more devices every day, there is a cost to the environment – and it’s a cost that many IT companies ignore. Experimentation to advance the human race at the cost of, well, the Earth.
Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are trying to solve the impact of modern computing on climate change – realizing its true effect on the environment and explaining how to create and put implementing more sustainable practices. Earlier this year, they released their findings in an article titled ‘In the hunt for carbon: IT’s elusive environmental footprint. ‘ The study found that “carbon emissions have two sources: operational energy consumption and manufacturing and hardware infrastructure.” As algorithmic, software and hardware innovations that improve performance and energy efficiency help reduce the carbon footprint of operational energy consumption, the overall carbon footprint of IT systems continues to grow.
The document specifically points out that data centers contribute to carbon emissions – they account for 1% of global energy consumption, which is not surprising when you think about the amount of energy needed to house and cool their servers. This helps demonstrate the importance for businesses using the cloud to ensure they are working with carbon-conscious providers and hosting companies. The paper also looked at how reducing the complexity of devices could reduce manufacturing emissions. For example, look at the modern chip design that houses silicon and billions of transistors. With only one small part of the chip in use at a time, there is a lot of unused silicon – or black silicon, as it’s called – that increases performance. But at what cost for the environment?
Hurry up. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world’s leading authority on climate science – recently announced that “human activity was “unequivocally” the cause of rapid climate change. ‘ Confirming that temperatures are set to rise by at least 1.5 degrees over the next two decades, the IPCC said that “only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases during this decade can prevent such a deterioration of the climate “.
Every action or inaction has an impact on the environment and companies can no longer play the card of ignorance. With more and more people moving online, companies providing IT products and services need to ensure that they do so in the most sustainable way possible. This is especially important for those who work in modern IT. What is the environmental impact of your innovations? Do they cause more damage even when intended to solve the climate change crisis?
The cloud enables various products and services to tackle the climate crisis around the world, but not all clouds are the same. You have to take into account the impact of your supplier: does it use renewable energies? Are they offsetting their carbon? Are they making sure the most sustainable practices are in place? We all need to work together to reduce our carbon footprint now – and, when it comes to the cloud and the accelerating digital transformation of the world, that means looking at your own carbon footprint as well as that of your suppliers.
About the Author
Jake Madders, along with his business partner Jon Lucas, founded Hosting managed by Hyve, in 2001. Since then, in his role as Director, Jake has facilitated Hyve’s growth from a small start-up to a hugely successful managed cloud hosting company with a global customer base.