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The AWS Sustainability Story You Haven't Heard


As more organisations leave their legacy systems behind, aligning public cloud capabilities with sustainability efforts has become a key focus.

Cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud are increasingly incorporating green cloud computing into their business models - but are they doing enough to communicate their efforts to consumers?

Nasstar’s Technical Practice Lead and AWS Ambassador, Jason Oliver, had an eye-opening focus group experience at this year’s AWS Summit London. He reflects on the hyperscaler’s efforts to reach sustainability in the cloud in this blog.

Focus group scepticism

During the summit, I was invited to attend an AWS Marketing focus group. This collection of randomly selected customers and partners came from a variety of roles across the spectrum, some already using AWS, and others were planning their journeys to it.

During the session, the group was exposed to several concepts, one of which was sustainability. To my surprise, most in the room were either sceptical or mistrustful of the hyperscaler’s efforts. Many even dismissed its claims as ‘greenwashing’.

With my deep knowledge of both AWS and cloud sustainability, I took it upon myself to advocate for the company. Unfortunately, I was wearing my AWS ambassador polo shirt at the time, which made it seem like more than a happy accident…

In cloud computing, sustainability is not just an industry buzzword. It’s a topic that’s having a profound impact on how hyperscalers conduct their operations and create services for their customers. But can cloud computing really help to build a more sustainable future for all?  

Can the cloud actually be sustainable?

As more companies move their operations to the cloud, concern about the environmental impact of these systems has grown. Many cloud providers have attempted to address these worries by promoting their "green" or environmentally friendly services. However, not all these claims are accurate, and some companies have been caught engaging in "greenwashing" - using misleading or inaccurate information to make their products seem more environmentally friendly than they are.

Greenwashing is a particularly pressing issue in the public cloud since hyperscalers operate massive data centres that consume enormous amounts of energy. While some providers have taken steps to reduce their energy consumption and use renewable energy sources, others still need to adapt to the demands of their customers.

To avoid falling victim to greenwashing in the cloud, Jason recommends in-depth research. Potential customers should be prepared to look beyond outward claims made by providers and dig deeper into their environmental practices and policies. Consider factors such as data centre power sources, overall energy efficiency, and active measures to help users reduce their environmental impacts.

Here are some steps to help you assess and compare different providers:

  1. Research the provider's sustainability goals and initiatives. Look for information about energy use, carbon emissions, and waste reduction efforts.
  2. Check if the provider has third-party certifications or audits for their environmental practices. This may include certifications for renewable energy use or carbon offsets.
  3. Evaluate the provider's data centre locations and energy sources. Providers with data centres in regions with access to renewable energy sources may have a smaller carbon footprint.
  4. Look for information about the provider's hardware recycling and disposal practices. The responsible disposal of hardware can have a significant impact on environmental sustainability.
  5. Consider the provider's transparency and willingness to share information about their environmental practices. Providers who prioritise communication may be more committed to sustainability.

By taking these steps, you can assess and compare cloud providers to make an informed decision about the environmental impact of your technology investments.

Winning the PR war

I believe that cloud providers can address sustainability scepticism through the following methods:

Share your accomplishments: AWS has some outstanding sustainability accomplishments, initiatives, and plans for the future. It also has a wealth of content on its sustainability microsite. Other providers should follow suit and do more to share their achievements!

Back up your claims: The focus group recommended adding metrics and facts on any future sustainability-related AWS advertisement to build trust. What’s stopping all providers from doing the same?

Brand Awareness: By leveraging the wider Amazon brand, AWS will become more trusted and credible on the topic of sustainability. Azure can do the same with Microsoft, as can GCP with Google. Cloud providers should lean on their heritage to tell a more compelling sustainability story.

Start your research here

My eyes were first opened to AWS's herculean efforts to reduce their impact on the environment during Peter DeSantis's keynote at AWS re:Invent 2019. During his speech, Peter highlighted the past, existing, and future initiatives the organisation had committed to.

For anyone operating in the cloud or considering a cloud migration, check out the following resources:

About Jason

Jason Oliver is an accomplished AWS ambassador, technical practice lead, principal cloud architect and builder with over 25 years of transformational IT experience working with organisations of all sizes and complexity.

Jason is an SME in AWS, Azure, and security with strong domain knowledge in central government. He has extensive knowledge of the cloud, the Internet and security technologies in addition to heterogeneous systems spanning Windows, Unix, virtualisation, application and systems management, networking, and automation.

He evangelises innovative technology, sustainability, best practices, concise operational processes, and quality documentation. 

Jason is also an author, digital music producer, and a black belt and instructor in Karate.