AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

From Sustainable IT to IT for Sustainability

Sustainability has become a board-level topic. In Europe, it is a top-ten concern for CEOs who see it as one of the important, if not the most important, long-term risks that need to be managed. CIOs are looking for options to reduce their IT estates’ carbon footprints, and using technology to reduce carbon throughout the business can achieve an extensive impact. Chief sustainability officers can be unaware of IT’s ability to accelerate the achievement of corporate sustainability goals.

The last eight years have been the warmest on record. Governments are enacting legislation to combat climate change, which affects every region on Earth. Companies are responding to these emerging regulations and increasing customer and employee expectations amid the daily news of floods, heat waves, ferocious storms, and other climate-related disasters impacting communities worldwide.

The fundamental problem is the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). The average amount of C02 in the atmosphere in the pre-industrial era (according to data from 1000 CE to 1800 CE) was 280 parts per million (ppm). When it began measuring atmospheric CO2 in 1958, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded 315 ppm of CO2. As of October 2023, human activity has increased atmospheric CO2 to 418.82 ppm. This dramatic increase in CO2 is why 196 parties agreed to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” To reach these goals, the world must reach net-zero carbon by the middle of the twenty-first century. (The World Economic Forum defines net zero as “removing an equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere as we release into it.”) This is why Amazon and more than 400 companies have signed The Climate Pledge to achieve net-zero carbon by 2040—ten years earlier than the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal.

Organizations can reduce emissions and simultaneously meet the requirements of regulations by leveraging technology to collect, aggregate, analyze, act upon, and report sustainability-related data.

Let’s take a closer look at (a) how IT can be more sustainable and (b) how IT can help improve the organization’s overall sustainability.

Sustainable IT

Whether a company has its core business rooted in manufacturing or the cloud, IT leaders can have an immediate impact on emissions by improving system efficiencies and rightsizing IT architecture. This can be done by reviewing IT infrastructure and system architecture, which AWS describes in the Sustainability Pillar of the Well-Architected Framework.

As with other Pillars, an organization must evaluate trade-offs in meeting business objectives and consider how design can be improved. How much data do you need to store, and for how long? Do you need immediate data access, or do you need to archive data for infrequent access? What about latency and response times? Do you need millisecond latency for every use case? (Probably not.) Even the choice of programming language has an impact on resource usage.

If you have been thinking about migrating your data centers to the cloud, CO2 emissions, water usage, and electricity needs should factor into your decision. 451 Research, an S&P Global Market Intelligence company, conducted a study that found AWS’s infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy-efficient than the median of US enterprise data centers surveyed and up to five times more energy-efficient than European enterprise data centers. 451 Research also found that AWS can lower workload carbon footprints by nearly 80% compared to surveyed enterprise data centers; once AWS is powered with 100 percent renewable energy, which is expected in 2025, that number will increase to 96 percent. So what does this mean in practical terms? According to 451 Research’s calculations, by migrating an average 1 MW enterprise data center with 30 percent utilization, a company could reduce its carbon emissions by 400 to 1000 metric tons annually!

IT for Sustainability   

IT operations do not typically generate the majority of an organization’s carbon footprint (some exceptions include media or web-based content companies). Organizations are realizing they can reduce their carbon footprint while simultaneously saving costs. As energy prices have fluctuated and risen, energy supplies and costs have become a more substantial concern for decision-makers. Originally designed when energy cost less, many industrial processes can and should be examined for opportunities to reduce the need for energy, water, and material input and eliminate waste by-products.

The Içeçek Coca-Cola bottling plant in Turkey created a digital twin (a virtual representation of a system) of the plant, modeling the bottle-washing process from beginning to end. Building the digital twin took eight weeks. The operator then simulated a variety of settings in the digital twin until they created an optimal configuration, which they implemented in the physical plant. The process took four months and resulted in annual energy savings of 20 percent, a 9 percent reduction in water consumption, and an extra 34 days of processing time per year.

There are other things companies can do to improve their operations, including finding and unlocking operational data to analyze, leveraging machine learning to discover hidden opportunities, implementing efficient building management systems, and implementing an IoT strategy. Eliminating inefficient processes and enhancing environmental sustainability commonly go hand-in-hand with cost reduction—unsurprising, considering waste in any form typically has a cost.

In early 2023, AWS open sourced a set of modules called the Sustainability Insights Framework, which allows companies to quickly stitch together a solution that ingests data from multiple sources like enterprise resource planning, environmental resource management, and utility data to automate carbon footprint tracking and report this data in standard formats that can be included in corporate sustainability reports. Several companies offer commercial off-the-shelf solutions using the Sustainability Insights Framework or similar approaches.

Sustainable Business

While sustainability has not traditionally been a focus for the business or IT, it is becoming an important driver and decision-making factor. Once you start digging deeper into your IT and operations data, you will likely find opportunities to become more efficient while reducing CO2 emissions. It is the perfect problem to tackle: help the world and deliver better business outcomes simultaneously.

To learn more about the role of technology in delivering sustainability outcomes, please visit

Thomas Blood

Thomas Blood

Thomas Blood is an Enterprise Strategist at Amazon Web Services in EMEA. Prior to joining AWS, he held executive and technology roles in the public and private sector. He has a Masters in International Security and Information Management from Cal State Monterey Bay. Thomas is a US Army Veteran with tours in Europe and the Middle East. He speaks English, German, Spanish, and some French and Arabic. You can find him in Linkedin at