By Annalisa O’Rourke, Chief Operations Officer at Memset

Cloud computingClimate anxiety is real and will remain a hot button issue over the next decade. While we are only a short way into 2020, climate concerns continue to dominate the headlines.

Employees are increasingly taking an active interest in their employer’s carbon footprint. If they are not seen to be taking effective steps, they will not be afraid to voice their displeasure. In light of this, businesses are facing increasing pressure to evaluate their CSR credentials and take steps to become greener.

As a woman in STEM and as someone who has worked in the UK cloud industry for many years, I believe data storage could become a reputational risk to an organisation’s green credentials if not addressed. With 42 per cent of companies operating in the UK having some sort of cloud service in place, it is critical businesses understand the environmental consequences of their cloud storage infrastructure and take proactive steps to opt for carbon-neutral hosting providers.

Cloud technology has been a massive gamechanger for modern businesses. It has transformed the way organisations store and transfer crucial data and information. The use of cloud computing has also brought efficiencies. The cloud has improved the environmental economies of scale because it is more energy efficient to have larger data centres than smaller ones.

Furthermore, the concentration of energy use in larger data centres run by cloud businesses means organisations face a very large energy bill as part of their operating costs. This has created a powerful economic incentive to reduce energy consumption wherever possible. Finally, the cloud has encouraged many organisations to move away from a reliance on their often-aged server rooms. Legacy servers, ignored for years, are incredibly energy inefficient.

While cloud has resulted in a whole range of efficiencies, storing and using data however consumes a lot of energy. While many businesses have been able to remove this energy consumption from their sustainability books, by using outsourced cloud providers, shifting the problem to a supplier is not taking responsibility. This misguided mindset needs to change, or else businesses will make themselves a target for climate activism and reputational damage.

Besides, there has been a lot of improvement in the energy efficiency of data centres over the last 20 years. The development of benchmarking tools like the PUE metric has enabled data centre managers to understand their energy efficiency and make improvements using industry-established maturity models.

We know big hyperscalers are facing mounting pressure to show they take their environmental responsibilities seriously. However, this does not mean small cloud providers cannot become carbon neutral. With a better understanding on carbon neutrality, this goal is very much achievable.

Small cloud providers can also achieve carbon neutrality by going through improvement exercises in their data centres, cooling systems and adiabatic systems. As a business unit, it is important to assess one’s energy usage, business travel and supplier operations to understand the overall carbon footprint. Such analysis can be then used to reduce energy use and waste creation wherever needed.

Where possible, cloud providers should reuse and reallocate servers to reduce waste; but only if they pass stringent quality checks. Using ‘green’ suppliers, renewable energy sources and a mix of mains and solar power energy can be a suitable approach to sustainability. Besides, small organisational changes — like encouraging paperless office, flexible and remote working for staff, cycle-to-work schemes — can go a long way in reducing the overall carbon footprint of a cloud provider.

The global discourse around climate change is growing louder each day, making it critical businesses choose their cloud providers wisely. We are seeing demonstrations and staff walkouts around the world urging action to reduce carbon emissions. To become a part of this change, businesses can make a beginning by adopting a more sustainable approach and opting for carbon-neutral partners in this endeavour.