How the ‘green’ cloud helps fight climate change
South African organisations across the board must do more to support the country’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the “watershed” agreement announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow recently.
That’s the view of Vibhu Kapoor , Regional Vice-President, Epicor Software, Middle East, Africa & India, who maintains that the best way to accelerate progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is if governments, businesses and communities work together to instigate and implement change.
At COP26, countries promised to end deforestation, curb methane emissions and stop public investment in coal power. South Africa, one of the biggest carbon emitters on the African continent, has an elaborate and consultative climate governance system. Despite this, its reliance on coal-powered energy, coupled with a shortage of capacity to deal with climate change, has made it difficult for the country to meet its commitment in Paris to reduce carbon emissions by 34% in 2020 and 42% in 2025.
It was therefore not surprising that President Ramaphosa hailed the $8.5 billion agreement South Africa reached in Glasgow with the US, the UK, Germany, France and the EU to phase out coal power stations and invest in new sustainable energy sectors as a “watershed moment”. It was, he said, “proof that we can take ambitious climate action while increasing our energy security, creating jobs and harnessing new opportunities for investment”.
Kapoor believes that South African businesses, like their counterparts around the world, could – as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives – implement more environmentally sound practices in their organisations, including implementation of cloud computing.
Epicor recently surveyed 1 250 technology decision-makers in the US and UK to establish, among other objectives, how cloud related to their organisation’s sustainability objectives. The research results indicated an encouragingly positive trend, with 93% of respondents saying sustainability was one of their focus areas, of which 41% stated it was a key focus area.
Reasons cited by the respondents for adopting the “green cloud” included:
- Digitising paper-based communications that they reduce reliance on paper;
- Reducing energy consumption and the reliance on fossil fuels;
- Enabling a more sustainable supply chain; and
- Enabling remote work with resultant reduction in carbon emissions.
Kapoor says digitising communications processes through the implementation of cloud-based electronic document signature solutions reduces paper wastage and minimises their environmental impact. In addition, 42% of the Epicor survey respondents believed cloud computing would also significantly reduce IT hardware wastage in their organisations.
He also notes that while the cloud was associated with a large carbon footprint because of data centres’ significant energy requirements, much of which is generated by fossil fuels, this has changed. The big three cloud providers (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud) already run on 60% renewable electricity and all have promised to completely decarbonise their data centres.
“Importantly, moving data from in-house servers to the cloud reduces companies’ own energy consumption,” Kapoor adds. Over 40% of Epicor’s survey respondents cited a reduction in expected energy usage when they no longer have to run on-premises servers; and 45% believed cloud-based IT solutions would facilitate access to greener energy sources.
Respondents also regarded a move to the cloud as a way to enable more sustainable choices, with 42% claiming they would consider choosing a cloud-based IT solution that locates servers close to renewable energy sources.
As far as supply chain management is concerned, Mark Griffiths, global head of climate business at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), points out that sustainable supply chains aren’t driven by technology, but are rather enabled by technology, including cloud technologies that deliver near real-time visibility and greater accountability.
Kapoor agrees, pointing out that modern supply chains utilise vast amounts of data which, when organised and analysed via a single, uniform cloud-based platform, help to drive efficiencies and the optimisation of global transport routes (thus reducing transportation-related emissions).
Unilever is going even further. The company is working with Google Cloud to fight deforestation by mapping satellite images of forested and deforested areas against data on suppliers. This enables the company to ensure it is buying products from sustainable sources.
Other companies are also using the cloud in this way. Over 40% of Epicor survey respondents believed the cloud would facilitate the ethical sourcing of materials that it would enable them to build more resilient, transparent and sustainable supply chains.
Finally, while COVID-19 has shifted working patterns, there was already a slow move to employees working remotely before the pandemic. This trend accelerated in the lockdowns enforced around the world. Cloud computing enabled this shift, but – Kapoor acknowledges – the jury is still out on its environmental benefits. In countries like the UK, the increased need to heat individual workers’ homes in winter may dilute the benefits realised in summer; while in countries with very hot summers, the use of air-conditioning in individual homes would consume even more energy.
Even so, 40% of Epicor survey respondents cited lower workplace carbon emissions enabled by remote working as a key benefit of cloud computing.
“In South Africa, heating and air-conditioning may not be as much of an issue as in other countries; however, when one considers that most employees who are able to work from home commute to the office in greenhouse gas emitting vehicles – their own or a minibus taxi – the environmental benefits of remote work is clear,” Kapoor says.
“In light of the urgency with which climate change must be addressed, local businesses have to play, and cloud adoption offers a win-win option in their efforts to do so.”