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Last updated: Apr 28, 2023

Cloud computing can reduce carbon footprint

Author: Anna Iuchanka
Last updated: Apr 28, 2023
What's inside

If you’re looking to shift your operations to the public cloud, you’re likely already aware of many benefits cloud computing can bring to businesses, such as increased agility and performance and reduced costs. But there's another thing to consider: sustainability.

Leading cloud service providers — Google, Amazon, and Microsoft — have all committed to going carbon-neutral and shifting their data centers to fully sustainable hosting by 2030. (Read: you still have plenty of time to jump on the sustainable engineering train and show your competitors how it’s done.)

Due to their scale and positioning in the global cloud services market, these public cloud platforms have the authority to push forward green cloud computing in different ways. This includes driving the use of green software (the same software we know but requiring less human resources, energy, and hardware) and speeding up the transition to a circular economy — a system where resources get used, but not used up.

Aside from direct benefits, technology innovations related to large-scale cloud computing bring numerous indirect perks. For instance, using AI, machine learning, and geospatial data insights to optimize supply chains or help city planners and local governments make environmentally friendly decisions, get us closer to cleaner energy sources and a greener planet.

You get where we’re going, right? Since the tech industry is going to burn bridges to data centers powered by fossil fuels in the not-so-far future, companies that want to stay at the forefront of the market and not risk their customers’ and investors’ trust have no other choice but to take immediate steps to reduce their environmental impact — whether that’s by making informed decisions about their cloud provider or shaking things up themselves.

Good news: The offerings of large-scale cloud providers don’t just give you options for your immediate needs, but can also serve as a good starting point for your own journey toward sustainable software development.

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On a mission to run its worldwide operations on 100% carbon-free energy 24/7 by 2030, Google became carbon-neutral in 2007 and had been powering its data centers with renewable electricity sources since 2017.

The company also invests in technology to develop carbon removal solutions for neutralizing its carbon emissions and aims to replenish 120 percent of the water consumed in its data centers and other facilities.

In general, the public cloud is backed by hyperscale data centers that are way more energy efficient than smaller servers, which is possible due to innovative infrastructure design and advanced cooling technologies. If a company runs its operations in a Google data center, the electricity needed to power its IT hardware is lessened, and the overhead energy consumption goes down. That means that cloud servers can achieve higher power usage effectiveness (PUE) compared to an average enterprise data center.

Google states that its data centers are twice as energy efficient as typical on-premises data centers, and that they deliver five times more computing power with the same amount of electricity compared with five years ago.

According to Google's latest Environmental Report, all products developed on the Google Cloud Platform are carbon-neutral. The carbon footprint from operations run on the company's infrastructure is reduced due to purchasing renewable energy to power electricity grids. Besides that, Google procures high-quality carbon credits to compensate for its remaining carbon emissions.

To accelerate the transition to a circular economy, Google aims to maximize the reuse of finite resources across all of its operations and value chains. Google’s approach to a sustainable economy is based on the idea of incorporating circularity into the design from the inception and keeping each resource and material in use for the longest possible period.

Designing out waste (DoW) in the data centers and moving toward zero waste to landfill have been Google’s priorities for a long time. In 2021, the company diverted 78 percent of waste generated by its global data center operations away from landfills. The same year, the usage rate of refurbished components for upgrading servers reached 27 percent, and more than 4.9 million units were resold in the secondary market.

Besides running its own business operations in a sustainable way, Google Cloud provides its customers with the Carbon Footprint tool, which allows users to monitor and measure carbon emissions associated with their cloud applications, including Scope 1, 2, and 3. As an emissions calculator, it also helps companies calculate the gross carbon footprint for reporting purposes and provides guidelines with best practices for building applications in Google Cloud with a minimal carbon footprint.


Microsoft set an ambitious goal to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 50 percent by 2030 and remove its historical carbon footprint by 2050. A large part of Microsoft’s sustainability commitment is to shift to 100 percent of the electricity supply generated by renewable energy sources in the company’s data centers and managed buildings by 2025.

Microsoft also committed to achieving “zero waste” goals by 2030. The initiative concerns the company’s data centers, direct operations, and packaging. As part of its environmental sustainability strategy, the company has been building one-of-a-kind Microsoft Circular Centers since 2020. The Circular Centers are designed for reusing or repurposing decommissioned servers and hardware components, which contributes to solving the global problem of growing e-waste amounts.

Microsoft is also committed to helping its customers understand the environmental impact of their cloud computing activities and manage their emissions more effectively. This is achieved with the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability — a SaaS solution that gives a comprehensive view of an organization’s carbon emissions based on data collected from multiple sources in near real-time and provides actionable insights for carbon footprint reduction.

Another tool for calculating carbon footprint from Microsoft is the Emissions Impact Dashboard for Microsoft 365, which allows Microsoft Azure’s customers to calculate emissions associated with their workload in the cloud.

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Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge, which is powered by 400 companies across 35 countries and commits to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The Pledge articulates various carbon elimination strategies, including reduced material usage, innovations for energy efficiency, and renewable energy solutions.

Amazon has been the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy since 2020. The company is also at the forefront of implementing sustainable solutions to decarbonize its transportation network.

A study from 451 Research demonstrated that the median of surveyed US enterprises could reduce its carbon footprint by up to 88 percent after moving to AWS, compared to running its IT operations in the on-premises data center.

The main drivers of AWS’s infrastructure power efficiency are higher server utilization rates and greater workload flexibility. The company's data centers were proved to be 3.6 times more energy efficient than a data center run by an average US enterprise.

Moreover, the scale and innovative approach to server design in its data centers allows AWS to develop custom hardware optimized for workloads run by its customers.

Amazon’s vision of a circular economy is based on the idea of using resources and items for a longer time span. As a part of its commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions within The Climate Pledge, the company optimizes inventory management, cooperates with shipment companies to maximize the use of recycled packaging, and motivates customers to reuse, repurpose, and recycle purchased products.

Amazon didn’t lag behind its competitors and developed its own carbon tracking tool — AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool, an emissions calculator that provides customers with access to their carbon footprint data, including Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, from using cloud services. It can also estimate the reduction in carbon emissions due to moving operations from the on-premises data center to the cloud.

The cloud is always greener on the other side

Feeling motivated to make the switch to the public cloud right away, huh? Before you start, here’s a quick disclaimer: Migration like this is not a simple “lift and shift” exercise. It requires a clear strategy, the right vendor, infrastructure readiness, and alignment across the IT organization and the rest of the business.

But the effort you put into this transition is well worth it. Transitioning your operations to the public cloud and prioritizing the development of cloud-based applications has the potential to decrease global emissions and energy consumption by up to 20 percent.

So, if you want to do your part and follow in the carbon footprints of large-scale cloud solutions providers, now is the time.