AWS Cloud Operations & Migrations Blog

How to drive the discussions around carbon footprint reduction to support modernization and migration to the Cloud?

A Gartner, Inc. survey revealed that 87% of business leaders expect to increase their organization’s investment in sustainability over the next two years. This blog aims to equip Information Technology (IT) teams with the necessary resources to start the conversation with business leaders and prepare a compelling business case that highlights the opportunity for carbon footprint reduction through IT transformation.

Organizations are diligently working on their sustainability strategies, with a primary focus on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieving carbon neutrality. As IT organizations explore the opportunities for reducing GHG emissions, migrating to the cloud emerges as an interesting and distinctive prospect to contribute towards this goal. Milestones like reducing IT carbon footprint can be crucial to the organization’s sustainability journey. Microsoft Windows Server and Linux are among the most widely used operating systems for servers worldwide. The focus of this blog is carbon emission reduction for Windows and Linux servers. Organizations can replicate similar procedure to explore carbon emission reduction of their other types of workloads as well. To reach your IT transformation goals, we recommend you to use the following four steps for your discussions with business leaders regarding sustainability.

Understand the importance of IT transformation – The first step

The first step in GHG emission reduction journey is to understand how big is your IT-estate’s carbon footprint and to establish a baseline by measuring the current GHG emissions level. According to World Economic Forum article, data centers have a greater carbon footprint than the aviation industry (2.1%) and they are responsible for 2.5% of all human-induced carbon dioxide. IT contribution to an organization’s total carbon footprint varies between 5-10% depending on factors such as industry, market, and position in the value chain, with contributions reaching as high as 45% for organizations like insurance companies.

Explore your reduction opportunities – The second step

Once you understand your current emissions and sources, initiatives aimed at enhancing the energy efficiency of on-premises datacenters represent the initial steps towards reducing carbon emissions, and selecting co-location providers with favorable Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). However, on-premises data centers often lack the economies of scale enjoyed by the large cloud service providers (CSPs) like Amazon Web Services (AWS). If you are looking for more data to use in your conversations with business leaders regarding the cloud, there are customer stories and facts about renewable energy, energy-efficiency and investments into new processors below.

AWS remains the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy—a position it’s held since 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In 2022, the electricity consumed in the 19 AWS Regions was attributable to 100% renewable energy. Globally in 2022, AWS completed the construction of 16 data centers using lower-carbon concrete and 10 data centers using lower-carbon steel.

Research conducted by the international analyst firm 451 Research indicates that migrating on-premises workloads to AWS can significantly reduce the workload carbon footprint by at least 80%, a figure that can climb to an impressive 96% once AWS attains its 100% renewable energy goal by 2025. AWS’s infrastructure is shown to be 3.6 times more energy-efficient than the median of surveyed U.S. enterprise data centers and up to 5 times more efficient than the average in the E.U. and Asia. The cloud’s inherent ability to dynamically allocate computing resources facilitates optimal energy utilization, as servers can seamlessly scale up or down based on demand.

Customers like IBM, Accenture, Deloitte and ATOS have confirmed that sustainability is increasingly becoming a motivator to migrate to the cloud. Illumina which is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and systems shared how they reduced carbon emissions by 89% and lowered data storage costs by using AWS in their recent case study.

AWS’s commitment to sustainability includes investment in designing processors that are optimized for better price performance and less energy consumption. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances powered by Graviton3 ARM processors use up to 60% less energy than comparable EC2 instances. AWS Inferentia machine learning chip is up to 50% more energy-efficient and can reduce costs by up to 90% against comparable instances.

The facts above show, that it might be challenging for co-location providers or individual organizations to procure renewable energy at the same competitive prices as the large cloud providers and invest substantially in building sustainable silicon infrastructure. Relying solely on continuous carbon emission optimization for on-premises or co-location workloads may not yield significant carbon emission savings in the present or future, making the transition to cloud services like AWS becomes an increasingly attractive option for fostering sustainability and efficiency in IT operations.

Evaluate tools to calculate the carbon footprint – The third step

You may have come across carbon emission savings calculators where you can simply input the number of your on-premises servers to generate carbon emissions savings estimates. However, the drawback lies in the oversimplification of such calculators. They provide a generalized direction without factoring in the actual utilization of your servers. There is no assurance that the projected carbon emission savings will materialize after migration. These calculators offer saving projections based on average global carbon emission intensity values. Such projections may not offer tailored guidance on optimizing server quantities for maximizing financial and carbon emission reductions.

AWS has developed automated tool to support customers in building a business case around carbon emission savings and cost savings for their IT-estate based on their actual consumptions. AWS Migration Evaluator (ME) is that assessment tool that AWS offers as a complimentary service that uses customer’s real-time IT resources’ utilization data. Each assessment shows the projected cost savings to re-host your on-premises or private cloud workloads to AWS, including insights on reusing existing software licenses to further reduce costs.

The Migration Evaluator (ME) business case now includes a “sustainability assessment” (see example of the deliverable here). When migrating Microsoft, Linux or other workloads to AWS, you will get estimated carbon emission reductions. This will allow you to compare estimated annual carbon emissions for your current on-premises with those from the right-sized workloads on AWS. If you already know your on-premises datacenter carbon emissions, this assessment will use your data to provide the carbon footprint for your workloads and projected savings from the migration. This will give you confidence to compare and calculate the percentage of savings from IT transformation. The Migration Evaluator Directional business case provides a visual that you can use when presenting to your business decision-makers on the savings achieved from migrating on-premises workloads to the cloud (see image below).

Methodology used for these carbon emissions savings calculation

To calculate on-premise carbon emissions, information from a customer’s scanned data center is used, including CPU utilization and hardware specifications. The total IT power consumption is then determined by summing up all the devices, accounting for network and storage devices. An industry standard efficiency metric called Power usage effectiveness (PUE) is applied to factor in data center building loads like cooling and lights. The resulting power consumption is converted to annual energy and multiplied by a geography-specific emission factor (kg CO2 eq./kWh) from external sources to estimate the customer’s on-premises carbon footprint.

For projected AWS carbon emissions savings, assessment will use the same methodology as official AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool ( Carbon Methodology) employs. Carbon emissions data in the AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool adhere to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol and ISO standards. Carbon footprint estimates for AWS usage includes Scope 1 (emissions from direct operations) and Scope 2 (emissions from electricity production) data. For more information about carbon emissions, see the EPA Scope 1 and Scope 2 Inventory Guidance.

Get carbon emission savings business case for your organization – The final step

To reduce your carbon footprint from moving your on-premise workloads to the cloud, you need to know the baseline of your current carbon footprint, and calculate the projected savings with migration and/or modernization into the cloud. AWS Migration Evaluator assessment from AWS will provide you the numbers and the story for business decision makers and help you get support for your IT projects. Irrespective of your decision to move to any cloud service provider, this assessment will provide carbon emission footprint estimates for your data centers.

You can request a complimentary AWS Migration Evaluator assessment through our Assessment Request page or through your AWS Account Manager. AWS Partners can request an assessment for their customers through the AWS Partner Portal. 

In recent years, many businesses have been transitioning their on-premise workloads to cloud computing, and our customers, across various industries, have benefited in reducing their carbon footprint of their IT workloads by migrating and modernizing on the cloud. One of the major benefits of moving to AWS is the potential for accelerating customer’s sustainability journey, which can be a key factor in attracting and retaining their end-customers who are increasingly concerned about the impact of their actions on the environment. In the above blog post, we have provided the step-by-step approach in starting your journey to a sustainable IT transformation, and we invite your feedback and your experiences in this journey as comments to this blog post.

Useful Resources

About the authors:

Neelima Kadirisani

Neelima Kadirisani currently serves as senior sustainability business development manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS). She is supporting public sector customers in accelerating sustainable development using cloud technologies, across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. With a background in sustainability leadership roles across multiple industries, Neelima specializes in carbon emissions reduction, circular economy solutions, and environmental and social product lifecycle assessment.

Nidhi Gupta

Nidhi Gupta is the leader of Global Go-to-Market Strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS), specializing in modernization of Microsoft workloads at AWS. Prior to AWS, she gained extensive industry experience from her career with SLB (previously Schlumberger) for 13 years and with Baker Hughes/GE Digital for 3 years. She brings technology experience from her 5 years of entrepreneurial experience building a profitable startup from the ground up in the Silicon Valley. She holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, and has been a fellow at the Start-up Leadership Program in the Silicon Valley. Nidhi is passionate about sustainability, believes in putting customers first and uses her technical and business expertise to help organizations maximize the benefits of the cloud on AWS.

Pavel Shilov

Pavel Shilov is the Sustainability Ambassador in EMEA and lead go-to-market strategies development for public sector organizations across Europe, Mid-East and Africa at Amazon Web Services (AWS). He is supporting public sector customers in developing business cases for cloud migrations from cost and sustainability perspective and uses his experience to coach IT managers how to run the conversation about savings with business decision makers. Prior to AWS, Pavel led go-to-market strategies development for security vendor and Microsoft. Pavel holds a Master of Computer Science degree and at ease with all audiences, from CEOs and BDMs to engineering teams.