Build a Serverless workout generator using AWS Lambda, Golang, ChatGPT, Twilio, and WhatsApp, and set up a CI/CD pipeline with SAM and GitHub Actions.
5 min read
Mar 30, 2023
I remember my mother shouting at me, "Greg, turn off the bathroom light!". Or me lecturing my girlfriend, "Stop using plastic bags, they're polluting. Get a tote bag instead". But the reality is that a tote bag must be reused 149 times to have the same environmental impact as a plastic bag. Below this figure, they pollute even more than plastic bags.
It has been a long time since I started paying close attention to my ecological impact, and for the past year, as a Founder Associate of Tailwarden, I have been highly involved in the cloud space. In addition to assisting companies in reducing their cloud costs and improving their infrastructure security, this raises a question for me: what is the ecological impact that myself and the cloud infrastructures have in the world?
In order to accurately assess the ecological impact of our actions, we must use a common unit of measurement. At first glance: knowing the minimum wages of Sri Lanka (10,000 LKR), Togo (52,500 FCFA) and Japan (30,400 JPY) in the local currency does not provide a meaningful comparison. We’ll need to convert all of those numbers into the same currency. Throughout this article, our currency is CO2, and we measure the ecological impact in CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq). This allows us to compare emissions from different greenhouse gases on the basis of their global-warming potential (GWP) and communicate in the same language about taxation and health.
Obviously, CO2 emissions must be considered not only during usage but also during the production and disposal of products. Let me show you:
Find below a table of different CO2-eq emissions.
Cloud computing offers a number of benefits, including flexibility, scalability, cost efficiency, and the ability to access computing resources and applications from anywhere with an internet connection. Many organizations are now building their applications on cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), rather than deploying and managing their own on-premise infrastructure. In recent years, the usage of cloud providers has become more and more prevalent among organizations of all sizes and across various industries. According to latest reports, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is projected to be 19.9%, leading to the global cloud computing market reaching $1710 billion in 2029.
The widespread adoption of cloud providers is not without its ecological challenges: cloud computing is now emitting more than commercial flights.
There are three main causes of emissions from cloud providers:
Let’s assess the CO2 equivalents emissions:
1kwh = 0,45kg co2e200twh=2*10^11kwh ⇒ 9*10^10 kg co2e
In total, the consumption results in 90 billion kilograms of CO2-eq. Let's delve into that figure. It equates to the CO2 emissions from 22.5 billion bathroom lights being turned on.
Many of the major cloud providers have announced various sustainability initiatives and targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Here are some examples:
First, it is important to understand that carbon neutrality means that a company generates as many emissions as it absorbs, and it goes without saying that carbon neutrality should be measured on a global scale, not at the company level. Anyway, to reach the neutrality objectives at a company level, three paths are possible:
But it would be too simple if it was only about Cloud Providers accountability. As a cloud practitioner, you can be involved and reduce the infrastructure carbon print too.
According to a Gartner report, more than 70% of resources are wasted in the cloud. With an achievable optimization of half of those wasted resources, or 35% (70 TWh) of our cloud provider services usage, we can decrease the annual emissions by 31.5 billion kilograms of CO2-eq. A second wait here?
To put this into perspective, this amount is equivalent to the total annual emissions of countries like the Ivory Coast and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is also 3 times greater than the emissions of Northern Macedonia, 2 times that of Slovenia, and 3/4 of Denmark. And this is only about electricity consumption if we take into account the hardware manufacturing and the water consumption, you can double those figures. This is a significant reduction, which is a far cry from just turning off a bathroom light bulb.
That being said, how can we act on it?
- Selecting a server location based on the carbon emissions of the local electricity.
For instance, 1 kWh of electricity in Sweden emits 14g CO2-eq while 1 kWh in Poland emits 739g CO2-eq, which is 53 times higher. You can use this map to make informed decisions.
- Scheduling the shutdown and startup of servers
Another easy way to reduce CO2-eq emissions and your cloud costs is to schedule the shutdown and startup of machines such as on-demand instances or virtual machines that are left running even when not in use.
- Optimizing resources
Optimize resources by implementing an observability system that detects under-utilized resources. For example, a great open-source tool like komiser helps in uncovering idle resources. This also applies to load balancers that cannot be shut down. Setting up alerts can help in this regard. How many times have we forgotten to delete a sandbox instance after creating it?
Ultimately, reducing CO2-eq emissions from infrastructure is closely tied to optimizing costs on cloud providers. Thus, take care of both environments and your finance using monitoring tools such as
The aim is not to undermine the significance of our daily actions (in which I have a strong belief), but to simply raise awareness of the impact we can make by examining the technical infrastructure that leads to yearly whole country emissions.
Indeed, taking basic measures can significantly reduce CO2-eq emissions from technical infrastructure, such as optimizing resources, scheduling machine shutdowns and startups, and choosing server locations with lower emissions.
PS: By the way, I think we're good: we can stop tote bag production.