How can I minimise the carbon footprint of my cloud data storage?
Why is measuring your cloud carbon footprint an issue today?
More and more organisations are measuring their carbon footprint and tracking progress towards ambitious net-zero targets.
This is forcing organisations to look at the environmental cost of cloud data storage – which may be surprisingly significant. This means understanding that impact, quantifying it and then minimising it. It also involves breaking the unconscious habits that contribute to global emissions.
Assessing our behaviour around cloud computing and adopting greener habits can reduce emissions, help meet Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) targets, save you money and lead to better working. En masse, individual choices can form a mighty wave of positive change.
What’s the environmental impact of storing data in the cloud?
Though the word ‘cloud’ conjures something environmentally benign, the reality is millions of racks of servers in air-conditioned centres – all of which need 24/7/365 electricity.
The true amount of electricity needed to store your data and software in the cloud may surprise you. When the provider (Google, AWS, Microsoft Azure etc) stores your data they replicate it onto a number of servers. This is great for reliability of access, but at least doubles the environmental cost of your data storage.
The environmental cost of cloud storage has crept up on us, but is significant. The electricity used to run the cloud as a whole has a bigger carbon footprint than the airline industry.
What’s the first step towards minimising the environmental impact of our cloud storage?
Stage one is about measuring your data footprint. Your Managed Service provider or an expert partner should be able to help you access your cloud management reports, which will help you build a picture of just how much data you are storing. Once you have a baseline you can set targets for change.
What can I target to reduce my cloud data storage and reduce my carbon footprint?
Employee inboxes are a major culprit for unnecessary storage and duplication of data. Every email is taking up space in at least two data centres somewhere. The carbon footprint of your folders may surprise you.
Prof Mike Berners-Lee, author of There is No Planet B, estimated an average spam email produces 0.3 grams of greenhouse gases; while a standard email is 4 grams. Unfortunately you can’t reduce the amount of spam you’re sent, but you can cut the amount you save.
Beaming advice: Add spam auto-delete rules to employee email accounts. If you need multiple team members to see high volumes of email, consider a shared mailbox, which eliminates duplicates and helps teams work collaboratively. And remember, archived emails are still backed up somewhere. If you don’t need it, delete it.
Emails and attachments stored in cloud servers is being replicated and repeated. Do you really need to download and attach that document to another message?
If you work in a cloud environment use links to documents instead. Going back to that Berners-Lee example, an email with attachments can cause up to 50 grams of greenhouse gas emissions.
Beaming advice: Get everyone on the same page. Cloud environments are great enablers of collaboration. By linking to existing documents, instead of sharing multiple versions, teams can work together in real time, at a lower cost to the environment.
OK, is data retention also hurting my ESG strategy?
Inboxes aren’t the only culprit for old data that’s just clogging up cloud storage. More data is being created than ever, 328.77 million terabytes a day by the latest estimates.
Legally under the 2016 GDPR Act data “should only be kept for as long as there is an administrative need to keep it to carry out its business or support functions.” It’s time to reassess the data we’re saving (or hoarding).
Beaming advice: Adopt a sound data retention policy. By adopting data retention policies in line with GDPR best practice, you can work smarter, safer and greener. Consider what you would do with a physical copy of the data. If it needs shredding, then it needs deleting.
How do I make a data-retention and email policy work in practice?
In short, measure your footprint, track it and gamify reducing it. Simply tracking and making the results clear can make a big difference. Efforts are supercharged when we can see the impact. Smart Metres that measure daily energy consumption are shown to inspire 86% of people to take on additional energy-saving actions.
You might also want to consider making it clear who’s achieving what and offer incentives.
Reinforce the message that emails and data are replicated, so small changes have amplified effects.
The positive impacts of the changes we’ve listed are magnified by getting everyone across the business involved. This takes buy-in, with positive feedback a powerful, motivating factor.
Beaming advice: Create monthly updates on cloud storage and savings. Encourage small but powerful changes and celebrate those who make the biggest difference.
Will this be a lot of work?
No. With the right support it should be simple.
Jumping in with big pledges and complex changes can discourage meaningful change. None of these steps are meant to be a burden, but a nudge towards more thoughtful, climate-friendly working habits.
Don’t underestimate their impact. Working a little greener every day may be surprisingly easy. And, with cloud storage costs rising fast, it will save you money too.