As we have seen blog posts on different areas in our lives being transferred to the digital realm and potentially claiming it as a more sustainable way of living, I wonder… How environmentally sustainable “going all digital” really is?
People often talk about the cloud, yet not always fully understand what it is, where does it live and what does it eat, never-mind mentioning the negative impacts it can have on the environment. This blog post briefly introduces you to the concept of “cloud” and looks at some of the issues that stem out of cloud servers.
What is a cloud?
In short? That is where your information goes when you surf online and/or need an external place to keep your pictures and files. It serves as an intermediary between your device and a server, which is located in a server centre. Cloud server centres can be located pretty much anywhere as they work remotely. Their computing includes storage, databases, networking and software. The tech world currently distinguishes between 3 types of clouds: private, public and a hybrid version of both. People mostly opt for already existing cloud servers like Google, Dropbox or iCloud. However, technically anyone is able to create and use their own cloud server as well.
Even though to us, the cloud resembles a mystical creature, the data has to be stored somewhere physically.
Why would the cloud be considered environmentally friendly?
- Cloud servers tend to use less physical energy than physical servers.
- Greener Supply chain: companies do not have to build their own data centres, instead they can use already existing cloud server services.
- Using renewable energy sources (wind, solar) reduces energy consumption and greenhouse emissions.
- Cloud based services are attractive to businesses due to their flexibiiity and high power of utilisation. It is also more in align with carbon footprint limitations set by governments
- In a world that struggles with materialisation and overconsumption, cloud based services aim to dematerialise IT infrastructures -> less hardwire and materials that go to waste.
But what’s the issue then?
- Data centres heavily rely on air conditioning. Why is it bad? Greenhouse emissions!
- Smaller scale data centres lack the funding to go carbon neutral.
- Scholars find mining of crypto (servers are necessary for this process) extremely environmentally damaging and alarming due to its excessive energy consumption.
- Hardwire required for the construction and maintenance of servers in most cases are non biodegradable.
- Data centres emit noise pollution.
- Some studies show cloud centres that have greater carbon footprint than an airline industry. “A single data centre can consume the equivalent electricity of fifty thousand homes” (S. Gonzalez: 2022).
- VMWare. What is a cloud server? https://www.vmware.com/topics/glossary/content/cloud-server.html
- Atlantic. What is cloud hosting? https://www.atlantic.net/vps-hosting/what-is-cloud-hosting/
- Oracle. Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. https://blogs.oracle.com/cloud-infrastructure/post/three-ways-to-use-cloud-computing-to-achieve-your-sustainability-goals
- Sustainability Times. Cloud Storage Can Be A Green Solution. https://www.sustainability-times.com/green-consumerism/cloud-storage-can-be-a-green-solution/
- Go Climate. The Carbon Footprint of Servers. https://www.goclimate.com/blog/the-carbon-footprint-of-servers/
- Steven Gonzalez Monserrate. The Cloud is Material. https://mit-serc.pubpub.org/pub/the-cloud-is-material/release/2