Mark Hughes, RVP of UK & Ireland, Epicor, explores cloud computing’s implications for organizational sustainability practices and introduces the key findings of Epicor’s survey of technology decision-makers in the US and the UK.
With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) just around the corner, sustainability has never been higher on the public agenda. In the run-up to this historic opportunity to tackle climate change and accelerate the progression towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, governments, businesses and communities must start working closely together to instigate and implement change.
Progress on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives is taking place on many levels. Businesses of all sizes are increasingly looking to engage consumers and strengthen their brand reputations through environmentally sound organizational practices.
Cloud computing is uniquely positioned to help businesses save energy, reduce waste, adopt sustainable business practices that support a healthier environment for their employees, and satisfy environmentally-conscious consumers. However, are businesses aware that cloud computing can enable sustainable practices and are they migrating their infrastructure to the cloud as part of a wider sustainability agenda?
Epicor researched the opinions of 1,250 technology decision-makers in the US and UK on what they really think about the cloud, including the challenges and benefits of cloud computing as they relate to their organization’s sustainability objectives.
Cloud and green business operations
Overall, the research results point to an encouragingly positive trend when it comes to prioritizing sustainability within the corporate agenda. An overwhelming 93% of IT decision-makers surveyed named sustainability as their focus area, with 41% saying it is actually a key focus area.
Cloud computing can directly and positively affect green corporate practices and sustainable operations, particularly when it comes to running an IT estate and the daily operations of offices or facilities. This includes digitizing paper-based communications with cloud-based electronic document signature solutions, to simplify the process, reduce reliance on paper and minimize environmental impact.
About half of IT leaders (47%) surveyed believe they can reduce paper wastage through digitization efforts, and 42% are of the opinion that cloud computing will significantly reduce IT hardware wastage within their organizations.
Reducing energy consumption and the reliance on fossil fuels
In the past, the cloud has been associated with a significant carbon footprint, brought about by data centres’ use of electricity generated by fossil fuels. However, a lot has changed in the past few years and the big three cloud providers (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud), have all made a pledge to decarbonize their data centres completely.
In fact, cloud computing is emerging as a force for sustainability through its use of green energy sources to power data centres with solar and wind installations. As an example, Microsoft’s data centres run on 60% renewable electricity and the company plans to boost this to 70% renewable energy by 2023.
From the point of view of a company’s IT operations, moving data from in-house servers to the cloud reduces energy consumption. In the Epicor research, 42% of IT leaders cited a reduction in expected energy usage when they no longer have to run on-premises servers. 45% also believed cloud-based IT solutions will facilitate access to greener energy sources. Those surveyed also saw a move to the cloud as enabling more sustainable choices, with 42% claiming they would consider choosing a cloud-based IT solution which locates servers close to renewable energy sources.
Cloud and the sustainable supply chain
The benefits of cloud computing for supply chain management are well-documented, with the cloud’s ability to manage data, provide real-time visibility and ensure greater accountability proving critical for driving efficiencies and optimizing global transport routes.
For example, Unilever is working with Google Cloud to fight deforestation and source sustainable materials. Satellite images of forested and deforested areas are mapped against data on suppliers to ensure Unilever is buying products from sustainable sources. The cloud acts as an agile environment that orchestrates data and provides complete visibility across both the value chain and supply chain.
Epicor’s survey echoes these trends, with 42% of technology decision makers believing the cloud will facilitate the ethical sourcing of materials. The same percentage (42%) states it will facilitate their ability to build more resilient, transparent and sustainable supply chains.
From climate change to climate resilience
The Covid pandemic has shifted working patterns for good, with the growing number of employees working remotely from home, either permanently or part-time, as part of a hybrid model. Cloud computing acts as an an enabler for the distributed workforce and ‘work from anywhere’ practices, however, the environmental impact of remote work is not as easy to measure.
In the UK, remote working may only be more environmentally friendly in the summer and less so in the winter, due to the need to heat individual workers’ homes versus one office building. In many countries, including the US, this pattern may be different due to the use of air conditioning in the summer which consumes even more energy. Even so, just over 40% of IT decision-makers cited lower workforce carbon emissions enabled by remote working as a key benefit of cloud computing.
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In 2021, climate change has become our reality, with several natural disasters, such as flooding and major fires, disrupting daily lives and business continuity. Such incidents are unlikely to disappear in the near future, so it’s important for organizations to consider cloud adoption, not just to drive their CSR and sustainability agendas but also to increase their resilience by effectively reducing and managing the risks arising from climate change.