With climate change a major theme of the recent Australian Federal Election and the Labor Government’s major push to tackle this, it raises the question: what can the Australian technology and business communities do to address this clear and present danger?
Since the proliferation of the internet, data centres and the ICT industry in general have become the most significant consumers of energy and therefore global resources. Big business is now powered by the likes of big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, machine learning (AI & ML), streaming, and the list goes on.
To put this into perspective, data centres are estimated to use as much energy as 28 million Australian homes, and where global internet traffic used to be 100GB a day in 1997, it is predicted to reach 150,700GB per second by 2022. The reality is that the global ICT industry now outputs more carbon than the aviation industry, despite countless sustainability initiatives from large corporations.
With this in mind and Australia’s ICT industry estimated to be worth $120 billion, it’s reasonable to assume that as it continues to grow, so too will our carbon footprint. Australian businesses need to take more responsibility for their role in mitigating excessive energy consumption – despite our dependence on technology increasing. But how can businesses do this while still maintaining a competitive edge with technology?
Interestingly, although the ICT industry has surpassed the aviation industry in terms of carbon output, CO2 emissions haven’t budged much past the 2% that was marked in 2013, despite the huge growth in global ICT markets and usage. The cause of this surprisingly stagnant result is that improvements in efficiencies across the industry have actually served to off-set emissions produced by the growth of the market overall.
It turns out that the enormous sprawling suburbs of data centres being built and run by hyper converged cloud providers aren’t as bad for the planet as previously thought. One of the reasons for this is that each of the big three cloud providers (AWS, Google, Microsoft) operate their data centres within the region of 3.75:1 to 6:1 efficiency and this economy of scale saves a lot of power.
Then there’s renewable energy: at least two of the big three run solar and wind activities, two claim their cloud operations are 100% carbon neutral, and one is the world’s largest consumer of sustainable power..
This is a step in the right direction for the ICT industry, especially when cloud is rapidly increasing in adoption due to the many benefits it brings to a number of core industries. For example, cloud underpins the technologies behind ‘smart agriculture’, allowing farmers to boost yields by 30 per cent and avoid 20 per cent of waste, both of which will contribute to an economic benefit of $1.9 trillion (US), as outlined in the Global e-Sustainability Initiative.
The message to cloud responsibly is two-fold. By operating a cloud-first approach and choosing to work with a cloud provider, it will have a significant impact on your ICT team’s carbon footprint, making it far more sustainable than doing it yourself on-premise. And I think we can all agree that is a positive move for the planet as a whole.
The second part of the message is this. By migrating your data and workloads to the cloud, organisations can more effectively move, manage and use data across more pragmatic and scalable hybrid IT environments. In the process, this allows for more efficient and smarter approaches to dev/test, disaster recovery, and analytics (to name but a few areas of benefit), all of which ultimately equate to far leaner, more competitive organisations.
Capitalism isn’t going away anytime soon, so organisations can ill afford to ignore the competitive edge that employing technologies like cloud can give to a business. In 2019 however, this profit driven ethos cannot remain the only driver for organisations.
Whether it’s on social media, or the front page of the SMH, on ABC’s Future Tense podcast, or even Channel 9 evening news, the issue of climate change is being talked about on by individual citizens and organisations alike, as the biggest and most pressing challenge we all face today.
As employees of organisations, and individual citizens of our planet, we all have a duty of care to the generations yet to come to put the long-term health of our planet above selfish short-term economic gain. By committing to cloud responsibly, Australian organisations all over the country (and globe), can play their part in the much wider societal movement towards a greener, more sustainable future.