A decade ago, being future proof mainly meant that your organization was built to withstand technological change. Now, it also extends to your ability to mitigate environmental consequences—to not just thrive today but to keep thriving for generations to come.

The airline industry has been one of the most active recipients of environmental criticism; book a flight from Amsterdam to London and you’re more than likely to get called out by someone in your circle. Make a frivolous search on the internet and all you’ll hear are the crickets chirping. This is not because of differing environmental consequences, it’s simply a matter of where the spotlight is currently shining.

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Few businesses and fewer consumers realize that the global IT industry emits carbon at the rate of the global, pre-COVID, airline industry. But environmental activism has grown at a monumental rate between the eras of Al Gore and Greta Thunberg. And as it continues to grow, the spotlight inches ever closer to recognizing the emissions caused by computing servers.

Consumer sentiment has long conveyed a preference for businesses that adopt greener practices from the ground up. Some organizations have already recognized this trend and are acting upon it by building their websites with sustainable design in mind. For organizations of various shapes, sizes, and industries, a plethora of environmentally conscious options are available.

Beyond the reasons of industrial regulations and goodwill, adopting these changes can also lend a sustainable hand to your organizational compliance, profits, and efficiency—all while responding to our urgent global mission to divert from the current path of impending environmental catastrophe.

Green is good, for the Earth and your business

The traditional approach has long pitted sustainability against performance metrics, rendering them mutually exclusive in the organizational consciousness. And with traditional calculations, that might be true. If you increase your system usage, you will inevitably increase your power consumption.

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65%

Organizations with an average on-premise to cloud migration can achieve a 65 percent energy reduction.

84%

Similarly, they can also achieve an 84 percent carbon emission reduction.

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However, implementing a green strategy can change that calculus. Organizations with an average on-premise to cloud migration can achieve a 65 percent energy reduction and a carbon emission reduction of 84 percent—even up to a whopping 98 percent when designing applications specifically for the cloud. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) comes to the rescue here. 

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Adopting sustainability as a KPI will give you a string of benefits. It saves you the fees of not complying with industrial carbon caps and improves the efficiency of your existing resources by increasing your ROI while also improving your reputation as a sustainable business.

Preparing for a green cloud transition

As it is with any tale of great transformation, it's about taking the right steps before reaping the benefits of a green cloud strategy.

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Step 1: Taking stock of green cloud providers

The fear of adverse effects has caused most countries to limit their reliance on nuclear energy, a traditionally dependable—if somewhat controversial—source of emission-free power. This means that a significant portion of green compute is powered on a location’s meteorological timetable. Solar and wind energy rely on, well, the sun and the wind, and based on different weather patterns, providers in different countries will be limited as to which green schedules they can accommodate.

Step 2: Finding the right match

Your potential green cloud providers are located across borders, providing a wide variety of solutions with unique advantages, disadvantages, and constraints inherent in their services.

Armed with a list of your potential suppliers’ propositions, you will be able to understand how each one can bring value. This will help you choose the one that most closely matches your own value propositions.

Step 3: Knowing your application landscape

A major and frequently repeated pitfall of most cloud transitions is that they are initiated with a selective overview of the organization’s operations. Generally, building on an incomplete understanding does not serve your ambitions well. But a green cloud migration is especially merciless to a lack of oversight.

It is imperative to begin with an understanding of your existing applications, servers, and workloads. Since sustainable strategies require you to accommodate external variables like schedules of green energy and the locations and time differences of sustainable data centers, your landscape will have to be flexible. An educated approach to flexibility knows which workloads will bend, and which will break.

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Cloud technology for a more sustainable future | FORWARD / Cloud

During Accenture's FORWARD / Cloud event, we had a panel discussion about the impact of data centers, green energy, green software engineering practices, and new sustainable business models.

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Therefore, you would do well to get a thorough picture of your IT landscape and then begin with the following four questions:

  1. Which apps don't we need anymore?
  2. Which can we move to third-party suppliers?
  3. Which do we need to rebuild?
  4. Which are good to go (green) and only need optimization?

The answers to these questions will allow you to select the workloads that require immediate compute and schedule the ones that are not time-sensitive, crafting a path to the greater green educated by your organizational priorities.

With an understanding of what your organization can adjust to achieve its goals and an overview of the solutions available at your disposal to aid your transition, you can streamline the process of migration and avoid superfluous cost. Sustainability is, after all, about efficiency.

Leveraging employee commitment for a successful migration

A successful cloud strategy always hinges on the collective shoulders of your workforce. Without a business goal, a cloud transition is only a matter of cost. Demanding more effort from your staff to hone new capabilities is a difficult sell when the bottom line is not visible to them. Migrations often fail by considering the financial motivation to be an equal incentive for all levels of the organization.

The social consciousness of the need for sustainability makes it a tangible goal, allowing you to communicate more effectively about the necessity of migrating while providing an intrinsic motivation to your workforce. IT, especially, is likely to be more dedicated to a transition that contributes visibly to greater business goals—sustainability, in this case.

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Migrations to the public cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 59 million tons per year which equates to taking 22 million cars off the road.

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Within five years, you can be in the position that most companies aren’t even dreaming of—being green and achieving it decades ahead of the timelines most national governments are currently operating on. Although this is not an approach that can simply be purchased outright, if you put in the work, you can be first and best. In a world of tough business choices, the green cloud is one of those coveted opportunities to have it all.

Going green means going ahead

The assessment of application landscapes can be a daunting task for organizations with decades of legacy history to compile. However, it is important to acknowledge that approaching any transition without a full understanding of your tech environment is a gamble. One that you might be getting away with for now, but one that is constantly increasing the stakes against you. A single unknown vulnerability is all it takes to migrate from the cloud to six feet under.

Of course, it is tempting to think that committing to on-site architecture is the easier solution. But the unfortunate truth remains that genuinely achieving sustainable goals will never be possible on-premise. Scaling, standardizing and optimizing your cloud capabilities is not just a sensible route to business value—it’s the only true solution to achieving carbon neutrality.

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In today’s day and age, sustainability is not just a target set by national and global industries, but an increasingly rigid benchmark in the hearts and minds of consumers. The values listed on your website will only get you so far. Eventually, the audience will demand proof.

Honing a sustainable approach will allow you to cross that line before most of your competitors even set off. It will enable you to make cloud migrations a more relatable goal for your entire organization. And most of all, it will render your organization future-proof.

The terrain of the green cloud is still forming. It comes with new challenges, some of them as yet unseen. But when it comes to the rewards on offer, the sky is the limit.

Do you have any questions about this article? Or do you want to know how to make your cloud more sustainable? Feel free to reach out to Christiaan!

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For more cloud-related articles, check out our Platforms section. Or simply visit the homepage.

Christiaan Ypma

Senior Manager – Accenture Technology, Strategy & Consulting, the Netherlands

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