AWS Public Sector Blog

Technology’s role in sustainability: Takeaways from the AWS Sustainability Breakfast Briefing

AWS branded background design with text overlay that says "Technology’s role in sustainability: Takeaways from the AWS Sustainability Breakfast Briefing"

There is increased recognition that sustainability cannot be a siloed business unit within an organisation. With government-mandated climate action targets, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting requirements, and demands from end consumers on the environmental and social impact of goods and services, sustainability needs to be intrinsically linked with each organisation’s unique value proposition.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Sustainability Breakfast Briefing on February 20, 2024, in Dublin, Ireland, featured a panel of sustainability experts from AWS customers and partners, as well as educational talks on important sustainability themes. The main takeaway is that sustainability transformation takes time – but every step along the journey can be meaningful. From a business perspective, it leads to additional benefits like cost savings and more engaged customers. For the public sector, a transparent and stakeholder-focused sustainability strategy leads to an increased likelihood of citizen behavioural change, with resulting societal benefits.

This blog post provides a recap of the highlights from the sustainability briefing.

AWS Cloud for a more sustainable and technologically empowered future

Technology will play a key role in companies achieving their sustainability goals and unlocking value for organisations as they become future fit. Hilary Tam, AWS principal sustainability transformation lead, noted that IDC Europe, a leading research consultancy, identified that 62 percent of large EMEA organisations will spend at least 5 percent of their IT budgets on sustainability actions in 2025. These actions range from improving IT infrastructure efficiency, to empowering sustainable hybrid working environments, to carbon accounting and smart building energy efficiencies, and more.  However, ensuring that the impact of technology does not outweigh its benefits means choosing sustainable IT, so that deployment of tech for good isn’t outweighed by the footprint of more workloads, and data centres which are not energy efficient.

Audience members heard how utilising AWS Cloud can lead to both carbon and cost savings for organisations. This is supported by AWS being on a path to match all of its global electricity use with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and investments into innovations in custom silicon such as the AWS Graviton processors. Graviton 4 provides up to 30 percent better computing performance, 50 percent more cores, and 75 percent more memory bandwidth than current generation Graviton 3 processors. Graviton 4 delivers the best price performance and energy efficiency for a broad range of workloads running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). With the influx of generative artificial intelligence (AI) workloads, AWS Trainium, a purpose-built AWS chip for training deep learning models, has seen energy-consumption reductions of up to 25 percent versus comparable instances. These were just a few examples as the company, along with 450-plus Climate Pledge signatories, races to net zero by 2040.

The intersection of AI and sustainability

A fireside chat between Ben Churchill, chief strategy officer at Cool Planet, and David Gregg, managing director at Slalom, delved into the intersection of AI and sustainability. Their conversation explored how AI technologies are not just shaping the future but also ensuring it’s a greener one, and highlighted innovative ways AI is driving sustainability across industries. They also highlighted how AI can offer insights to business and public sector organisations that allow them to not only leverage cost and operational savings but also carbon offsets, significantly reducing their environmental footprint.

The theme of AI and sustainability continued with Stephen Gallagher, a senior solutions architect at AWS, who outlined how cloud and AI can be utilised for ESG reporting. This can be used both for mandatory reporting and for wider tracking of sustainability initiatives across organisations. He noted that the challenge of ESG reporting is the complexity of the data and insights, with siloed data sources, inconsistent data quality and integrity, a lack of unified standards, and the time and resource intensity of data collection. Leveraging AI however, can accelerate the collection of ESG reporting and facilitate insights. This is done through the automated collection of data, building models and bridging data gaps, checking compliance and accuracy by mapping to ESG frameworks, and automated ESG report building and insights.

The human side of sustainability

Professor Tasman Crowe, University College Dublin’s vice president for sustainability, had a fireside chat with Hilary Tam and noted the importance of stakeholder buy-in when developing a sustainability strategy. Crowe said that “it’s an approach of making sure that ideas are being developed from the bottom up, and we make sure to reflect back to the people we have consulted with.” He noted that technology cannot exist in isolation, but needs to be developed in conjunction with the potential user and with regard to cultural, societal, economic, and governance considerations.

Meath County Council in Ireland is utilising AWS technology for the purposes of gathering public health data to influence behavioural change. Anne O’Brien, community climate action officer, discussed the Trim Air Quality Project, which gathers air quality data and uses it to quantify the effects on health and well-being. This then increases acceptance of the necessary prevention measures for behaviour changes, and will be the approach used with wider climate action measures taken by Meath, including the upcoming rollout of decarbonisation zones. The Trim project uses AWS Partner City Trax’s platform, which is ‘the magic ingredient’ according to O’Brien, as it allows functionality and comparison of health data.

Turning ambition into action

Ruairi Daly, lead controls and automation engineer at XOCEAN, talked about how cloud is core to what they do. XOCEAN is a company which uses uncrewed sea vessels to collect ocean mapping data. XOCEAN disrupts the traditional ocean mapping industry with reduced emissions (up to 1,000 times less than a traditional vessel), and no crew required to spend long periods of time on the water and away from home. Instead, crews can operate the vessel remotely from base, and data as a service is also available to prevent an unnecessary mapping expedition. Cloud facilitates this through cutting-edge technology which enables access to vessels and data for pilots and surveyors, and an easy mechanism to share large data sets with customers.

Bianca Wong, Kingspan’s global head of sustainability, shared the evolution of her company’s 10-year sustainability vision, Planet Passionate. Kingspan has reduced its direct GHG emissions by 65 percent in just three years, with cloud being a fundamental part of the data and operations strategy. Kingspan are now leveraging their origins in the insulation business towards helping their customers reduce their CO2 through low-carbon products – better for planet and for business. Wong said that there needs to be “a huge focus on data,” and that sustainability data needs to be integrated into the financial model. This is critical to building sustainability into an organisation’s unique selling point (USP), and that senior leadership needs to be bought in to deliver results.

Accelerate your sustainability journey with AWS

By working together and leveraging the power of technology, public sector organisations and businesses can create a better future for all. Leaders at the AWS Sustainability Breakfast Briefing demonstrated how businesses can make sustainability a key part of their strategy and deliver real and tangible sustainability impact.

Learn more about how organizations around the world use AWS to support sustainability solutions by visiting the AWS Sustainability homepage, where you can find customer case studies, sustainability resources, and more.

Ciara McGovern

Ciara McGovern

Ciara is a programme manager on the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Cross-Territories Initiatives and Programmes team at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Ciara is responsible for the Ireland public sector geo and leads the Sustainability Programme for this team, working in close collaboration with the in-country team and EMEA stakeholders. Prior to AWS, Ciara's background is in public policy, stakeholder engagement, and project management.

Hilary Tam

Hilary Tam

Hilary is a principal business development manager for sustainability innovation and transformation at Amazon Web Services (AWS). She leads strategy for the AWS Sustainability Transformation Acceleration Team.