5 facts about the sustainability of cloud computing

How sustainable is cloud computing? The answer may surprise you – but it can also vary.

By some measures – and according to some sources – the cloud is very environmentally friendly. However, it is less so from other points of view.

To provide a balanced view, let’s examine five facts about the sustainability of cloud computing, and consider what they have to say about the sustainability of the cloud computing industry.

1. Data centers account for 1-2% of total global energy use

One of the data points that the cloud is beneficial for sustainability is the finding in the 2020 study that data centers consume 1% to 2% of all the electricity in the world.

Related: Cloud Computing Sustainability: Migration is More Than Efficiency

What’s more interesting is that this number does not appear to have changed since at least 2010, even though the number of data centers around the world, and the amount of workloads they run on, has increased dramatically since that time. This indicates that data centers are becoming significantly more efficient over time, and that moving workloads to larger central data centers—such as those provided by cloud providers—will reduce overall power consumption.

From this perspective, a cloud might seem like a good thing from a sustainability perspective.

2. Cloud customers increasingly want low emissions

support this view Gartner prediction That by 2025, the carbon footprint of cloud computing providers will be one of the first three criteria companies consider when choosing a cloud platform. Gartner says the prediction is based in part on a massive increase in companies’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprint since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While this number is a projection rather than an actual fact, it is another reason to believe that the cloud computing industry is poised to continue to become more sustainable over time.

3. Microsoft purchased 1.3 million carbon offsets in 2021

Here’s a data point that could be interpreted as a good or bad thing from a cloud computing sustainability perspective: In 2021, Microsoft (which, among other power-hungry platforms, owns the Azure cloud) Purchased 1.3 million carbon offset.

Advocates of sustainable cloud computing may welcome this news as evidence of how committed cloud service providers are to reducing their carbon emissions.

Related: Develop a cloud computing sustainability strategy

On the other hand, naysayers might point out that buying carbon offsets is hardly the same as reducing emissions from cloud data centers. The claim to carbon neutrality by buying it through offsets is one thing; It’s another way to build data centers that are virtually powered by zero-emissions power sources.

4. Amazon and Microsoft claim they will rely solely on renewable energy sources by 2025

Those dismissive of Amazon’s promise that by 2025, the company will be “It supplies its operations with 100% renewable energy.. Microsoft makes a similar claim, stating thatBy 2025, we will switch to providing 100% renewable energy. (For its part, Google Cloud promises to run on renewable energy only by 2030.)

Related: Google Cloud Sustainability Summit Drives the Green Agenda

These companies haven’t provided many details on exactly how they will get renewable energy, but it appears that they will rely on a mix of energy infrastructure they build themselves (such as AWS’ solar farms) and renewable electricity obtained from third party providers.

Critics may still assert that Amazon and Microsoft are only able to pursue this goal because they have the deep pockets needed to invest in renewable power plants and purchase renewable energy at whatever price the market demands. In this sense, cloud computing renewable energy plans – which rely on significant spending – are not much different from purchasing carbon offsets, which is also a luxury available to high-efficiency companies.

But this criticism seems a bit unfair. The fact that cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft want to get renewable power for their data centers, and then make those data centers available to customers, is generally a good thing. It puts clean energy IT infrastructure within reach of companies that would otherwise not be able to afford clean energy sources, if they manage their workloads in their data centers.

5. Cloud-based local technology may save energy

A final consideration in favor of considering clouds sustainable is the fact that, in general, Cloud Native Technologies Like containers and Kubernetes can Achieving overall lower energy consumption from traditional technologies such as virtual machines.

Of course, not all workloads that run in the public cloud are cloud native. And you can run native cloud workloads out of the cloud. (The term “cloud-native” is misleading in this sense.) But the cloud is the most obvious place to host cloud-native workloads, and in this sense, the widespread adoption of energy-efficient cloud-native technology is more sustainable.


Although the cloud does not have a perfect track record when it comes to sustainability, most data indicates that cloud-based workloads are, in general, more environmentally friendly than those operating in traditional data centers. This trend is likely to become more pronounced in the future, as cloud service providers invest more in renewables and as more workloads shift to environmentally friendly cloud-native formats.

About the author

Christopher Tosi with a bullet to the headChristopher Tosi He is a technical analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers, and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York area. His book, For Fun and for Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution, is published by MIT Press.

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