Just after Earth Day we hosted an exciting panel discussion on sustainability in the cloud, featuring experts on the topic from a variety of backgrounds. I moderated the event, asking the group a series of questions, which led to some great conversation.
Joining us was:
- Charlotte Squier, Cloud Sustainability Lead at Roche
- Asim Hussain, Executive Director at Intel and Chairperson at the Green Software Foundation
- Jordan Rodgers, EMEA Business Development Director and Sustainability Lead at Granulate
I know I learned a lot, so I’m sharing my main takeaways here.
Sustainability Challenges for Enterprise IT
In large organizations like Roche and Intel, sustainability is ingrained as a key strategic theme. As such, those responsible for this deliverable have a commitment to report our carbon footprint both from the cloud and from other areas of the organization.
But there are big challenges that these enterprises come across in monitoring and reporting. While cloud providers are providing high level carbon footprint data, they’re not getting the granular or comparable data that is needed to be able to build a holistic picture of the carbon footprint across the board.
Another challenge is figuring out what to do with that data once they get it. Part of the issue here is that in order for data to be actionable it needs to be timely, and some of the reports are up to three months delayed.
“While it’s good to get a yearly overview to start making tweaks and changes and hypothesizing what you could do to start optimizing your carbon footprint, having to wait three months to see if the change was good or bad is not dynamic enough.”Charlotte Squier
These reporting challenges become even more important when you account for the increasing regulations. So, these measurements aren’t simply “nice to have,” they’re also practical and (ideally) actionable. For that reason, it is best to fully understand how these metrics are compiled.
“Understand your organization’s commitments in detail, not just the headline, but the calculation methodology that the teams are using in order to come up with that number.Asim Hussain
Because if you don’t understand how your organization is calculating a number, you’ll never know what levers you need to pull in order to change that number. And you may do a whole bunch of things which you know are good, but they just won’t adjust that number based upon the methodology.”
The Relationship Between Sustainability and Profitability
When people think about sustainability, they usually don’t associate the concept with profitability. In fact, often the opposite connotation comes with sustainability, that it might be more of an expense.
However, several factors have arisen over the past few years that have placed profit considerations at the forefront of sustainability.
- Consumer demand – Consumers are increasingly seeking products and services that align with their values, which includes sustainable and environmentally friendly options.
- Reputation and brand image – Customers are more likely to be loyal to companies that demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
- Optimized resource utilization – Adopting sustainable practices can help enterprises save costs in the long run on both resources and fines.
- Government regulations – Countries and groups of countries are increasingly implementing fines and penalties for companies that don’t comply with carbon emissions regulations.
Ultimately, reducing emissions on digital applications has become a profitable practice on each of these levels. Consumers want to do business with companies that share their values, inefficiency that leads to wasted resources is expensive and government penalties are a direct hit to the bottom line.
“Sustainability needs to be profitable in order to be sustainable. So I completely agree that sustainability long term needs to be in line with profitability in order to see it be as big as we need it to be.”Charlotte Squier
Enterprises Are Investing in Sustainability
Enterprises are made up of individual people, no matter how large they may be. If sustainability is important to the people that make up the organization, ultimately it will become important for the organization itself.
“Whether you’re working in a large organization and you’re working in the digital section of a large organization, sustainability just matters to you. You make sure that your corner of the organization, the stuff that you do eight hours a day, nine hours a day, 12 hours a day that you do that as sustainably as possible.
I don’t think an organization could ever say we don’t care about digital services sustainability because the people who work in that division do and they will do things to make it more sustainable.”Asim Hussain
Even in large enterprises like Roche, where the carbon footprint of digital applications is just a small fraction of the overall carbon footprint, there is an emphasis on making an impact. These situations provide room to innovate and optimize. Additionally, one of the benefits of optimizing the cloud for sustainability is that there are opportunities for quick wins that might not be available in other sectors of the organization, like manufacturing or transportation.
Presenting the Theory of Change at Green Software Foundation
Asim walked us through the principles that the Green Software Foundation is based on. The GSF was established nearly two years ago, made up of members from across industries with a shared vision.
They first agreed on a theory of change, with three pillars for a future where there are zero harmful environmental effects from using software.
- Culture – In order for industries to invest in this challenge, there needs to be a change to the culture of technology. Sustainability would not be an extra discussion, rather it would be a factor considered among performance, reliability and security.
- Knowledge – Once an organization decides to prioritize sustainability, they need to learn how to implement it.
- Tooling – Adopting solutions that enable you to make those decisions easier, which makes them easier to prioritize from an organizational perspective.
Cloud Sustainability at Roche
Roche’s cloud sustainability journey started about a year ago in March of 2022, initiated by the release of the AWS carbon footprint dashboard. They started looking and comparing the offerings of the different cloud providers and other open source tools.
The team continued the experiment by looking at production workloads for the month of June running on AWS, taking the data from the open source tool and looking at utilization data. They based it on the location and got a rough estimate of what the carbon footprint would be for that month. Then they took it a step further and considered what would happen if they used a different processor.
They soon noticed there was an impact on the carbon footprint depending just on the type of instance used and applied 15 open or public benchmarks to their model. They realized that what they had thought were easy, straightforward answers changed very drastically depending on the benchmark.
“The key takeaway from that and I guess another challenge that comes from that is unfortunately, it is very workload specific and there’s no one size fits all in this space as much as it would be great to just say, awesome, let’s move forward with X and everything will be solved.”Charlotte Squier
Measuring Effect of Optimization on CO2 With Granulate
While speaking about tools for measuring and benchmarking carbon footprint, Granulate’s new carbon footprint meter came up. The meter measures the estimated reduction in emissions that companies are receiving when they employ Granulate’s autonomous, continuous optimization solutions. It compares the CO2 output on optimized workloads against the benchmark of workloads where the agent is passive and provides a monthly carbon reduction.
This measurement is featured alongside existing numbers that Granulate users are already familiar with, including cost savings and performance improvements. The decision to include this feature aligns with the ideology of “What gets measured, gets managed.”
“It’s intended to be a measurement for action. So that people that are application owners or product owners of digital products can actually know, by optimizing, this is ultimately my contribution back.”Jordan Rodgers
Optimizing the Cloud for Sustainability
Optimization is one of the quickest ways to make impact and improvements on carbon emissions.
“There’s lots of noise in the sustainability space. There’s lots of things you can do. Optimization is one of the core things because it actually really does result in fewer carbon molecules coming into the atmosphere, which I think was one of the challenges we have.
Sometimes you can enter into these constructs and contracts where the actual carbon molecules and the heating effect of your work is hard to navigate.
But optimization is efficiency.”Asim Hussain
Asim also addressed what he calls the four Ms of digital sustainability:
- Modeling – Figuring out your system, its different components, where it is going and what the organization is going to measure.
- Measuring – Getting the data to measure the emissions of a given application or product.
- SiMulation – Running test to see what would happen if you were to replace a given CSP, processor or other variables.
- Monitoring – Real-time monitoring to provide complete clarity as to where optimizations have happened, what impacts they had, what the impact will be long term.