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Achieving sustainability goals with the cloud

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes

Regional Vice President UK & Ireland at Epicor
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Image credit: maeching chaiwongwatthana / Shutterstock.com

The UK is not currently on target to meet its fourth or fifth carbon budgets (spanning the period 2023-2032), and despite a decline in emissions in 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that global CO2 emissions reached historic levels in 2021.

Predicted industry growth in the UK, alongside ever-more ambitious targets on reducing emissions means that all sectors must reduce their impact on the climate wherever possible. One way they can do this is to migrate their operations to the cloud.

Our 2021 Insights Report revealed that 94% of businesses are declaring an interest in cloud-based solutions over the next 12 months. This was a significant shift from the previous year’s report, where only 25% of respondents identified the cloud as a strategic priority, although the environmental benefits are by no means the only reason for this shift.

With many larger organisations having already been operating in the cloud for many years, SMEs and certain vertical sectors have fallen behind, due to a lack of technical skills, perceived business interruption from migrating, and historical business norms that relied on on-premises solutions. The heavy industry sector, including manufacturing and construction, is one such example.

Minimising energy and carbon output

The cloud is often positioned as a greener option for businesses as it has the potential to reduce carbon footprints by using service providers’ data centres. A cloud solution can deliver economies of scale, because the equipment is situated remotely, in locations with optimal temperatures, reducing the need for cooling. Having the ability to manage software remotely where workloads can be automatically scaled up or down – whilst moving energy usage to locations that can operate more efficiently, because it is delivered differently – uses significantly less computing power.  By comparison, the energy needed by thousands of businesses to maintain and cool their own on-premises servers (which are often situated in warm office buildings or factory floors), adds up to a significant amount of emission outputs from the sector as a whole.

In fact, IDC forecasted that the ‘continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from 2021 through 2024’. In 2018, the manufacturing and construction sectors constituted 12% of the UK’s total carbon output of greenhouse gas emissions, which shows the scale of the issue in some sectors and highlights how improvements made by businesses in these sectors to reduce their carbon footprints is important.

As an example, manufacturing brand Hacel Lighting used to conduct hardware refreshes every few years to ensure its on-prem servers could support the latest operating systems and middleware software. By migrating to the cloud, they have been able to eliminate the carbon-intensive requirement of regularly purchasing new hardware.

Additionally, if less hardware is manufactured, there are reductions in water consumption, CO2 emissions, chemical production, and mineral extraction, as well as landfill requirements at the products end-of-life. While cloud providers also have their own hardware and associated infrastructure to maintain, they too benefit from the economies of scale that a hyperscale business model allows.

The benefits of dematerialisation

Moving to the cloud is more than just shifting energy consumption and hardware from an organisation’s owned premises to another location. Gartner estimates more than 85% of organisations are set to embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025 – whereby they consider cloud-based solutions before anything else – as the cloud becomes ‘the centrepiece of new digital experiences’.

A cloud-first strategy means almost everything from ERP systems to business processes will move to the cloud. The result is dematerialisation – the process by which a business moves from a paper-based way of working to an automated system with digital technology at its core. The automation of operational processes enables greater agility and more flexibility, with businesses able to offer remote and hybrid working to employees who can connect to the cloud from anywhere with an internet connection, at any time. And the impact on the environment is also positive, with less waste created.

A real-life example of dematerialisation taking place in industries such as construction, retail, logistics and manufacturing, is the digitisation of data sheets – traditionally printed with a consignment of goods to communicate the characteristics of a product, such as components, logistics and pricing data. The creation, transportation and disposal of paper documentation is a needlessly wasteful process in the era of a sustainable cloud-first business operation. Using a cloud-first strategy, the data sheet becomes completely paperless, reducing environmental impacts, as well as reducing manual errors and optimising exchanges. This eco solution can be replicated in everything from invoicing and billing to people management processes.

Migrating to the cloud is crucial for any professional organisation looking to maintain a competitive edge and ensure their technology is future-proofed, as they navigate the many challenges of a post-pandemic economy. For IT companies, manufacturers, retailers, and distributors who have the most complex, digitally connected global supply chains, there is the added benefit of mitigating their impact on the environment.

As businesses look to the future and consider their business operations as part of their long-term growth strategies, cloud-based technology offers an ideal solution to address the ever-growing threat of climate change. Having said that, transitioning to the cloud isn’t without its challenges and making the move won’t mean your business becomes carbon neutral overnight, but it’s a crucial step on the sustainability journey for both large enterprises and small businesses creating positive impact on a global scale.

So, with the cloud, the grass really is greener on the other side.

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