Amazon Cloud can save the world — AWS plays the green card

AWS is proclaiming that businesses in Europe can reduce energy use by nearly 80 per cent when they run their applications on the AWS Cloud instead of operating their own datacentres. The claim is found in an AWS-commissioned report by 451 Research.

We learn that companies could potentially further reduce carbon emissions from an average workload — by up to 96 per cent — once AWS meets its goal to be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, a target the company is on a path to achieve by 2025. The 451 Researchers found that, compared to the computing resources of the average European company, cloud servers are roughly three times more energy efficient, and AWS datacentres are up to five times more energy efficient.

Chris Wellise, director of sustainability at AWS, is quoted in the blog: “AWS is proud to collaborate with businesses and governments to help meet their sustainability goals. We believe we have responsibilities to the communities where we operate, and to us, that means sustainability and environmental stewardship.” 

Surely every business understands it has “responsibilities to the communities” in which it operates. Amazon is just one of many businesses hurriedly running a green climate change banner up its corporate flagpole as it tries to ride on the back of customers’ climate change concerns to boost its own business.

AWS claims, via the 451 Researchers, that moving a megawatt (MW) of a typical compute workload from a European organisation’s datacentre to the AWS Cloud could reduce carbon emissions by up to 1,079 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. So AWS is effectively saying, if you want your European compute operations to emit less carbon then move them to AWS, increase AWS’s profits and increase its carbon emissions.

Amazon’s total carbon emissions were the equivalent of 60.64 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020. That was 19 per cent more than the 51.17 metric tonnes it emitted in 2020 which was 15 per cent higher than its 2019 total. This data comes from its own annual Sustainablity Report.

It says it is the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy and invites organisations to join The Climate Pledge — a commitment to becoming net-zero carbon by 2040, ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement. Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge. It is not known if Blue Origin, the space tourism company whose rockets and rocket building activities emit CO2, and which was founded Amazon founder and ex-CEO Jeff Bezos, has signed up as well.

Amazon itself — the ecommerce behemoth — has only committed to making 50 per cent of all its shipments net-zero carbon by 2030, five years after its AWS-powered-by-100-per-cent-renewable-energy goal. Amazon actually aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions across all its operations by 2040, ten years after that. As part of this it intends to only use zero-carbon fuel ocean shipping by 2040.

Amazon revenues were $386 billion in 2020 and it made a profit of $21.3 billion. With this amount of financial firepower at its disposal the company could move faster to net-zero status in its activities if it optimised them for sustainability over profitability. As a tiny example, the money spent on the 451 Research report could have been spent instead on reducing Amazon’s own carbon emissions — but that wouldn’t have provided such a good marketing opportunity for this self-interested business.