With climate change on our doorstep and a pressing need to both reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and reign in our carbon footprints, many stories around the problem relate to manufacturing, vehicles, cattle and the more obvious ways that we are impacting our environment.
When it comes to the 'invisible' elements, however, we may not have any clear-cut way to track how energy is being used, or where it is coming from.
Flipping a switch and turning on the light, connecting to the Internet, or accessing cloud services are within these grey areas, in which it is difficult to see where energy is being produced, what kind, and what the potential environmental impact may be.
Google purchases equivalent units of renewable energy for each unit of electricity used by the firm's cloud services to offset the firm's carbon footprint. Microsoft is also committed to using sustainable energy sources, with 1.2 gigawatts of renewable energy being produced by the company in three continents, and AWS also offsets its energy usage in an effort to be more sustainable.
Recent academic research (.PDF) suggests that the ICT sector produces up to two percent of global CO2 emissions, which puts it on par with the aviation sector. Data centers are believed to have the largest growing carbon footprint in the sector, due to the increase in Internet-based services and cloud computing.
Trade-offs and carbon offsetting is at least a start in making our data centers and cloud services fully sustainable, but a full transition to renewable energy sources will, one day, likely become necessary.
ServerlessDays co-founder and green data advocate Paul Johnston is the creator of a new Google Chrome extension, dubbed the Cloud Sustainability Console, which may be a valuable tool for those who want to see the connections between their Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing services and sustainability.
"At present, no cloud provider gives a Carbon Footprint as a line item in their account. Two cloud providers -- Google and Azure -- are 100 percent offset or use Carbon Credits to offset their electricity/energy usage," Johnston said in a Medium post. "This means that while they emit, they ensure that somewhere else in the energy system they remove those emissions [...] AWS though, is a bit different."
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The extension is a simple one and lays out which AWS regions are 100 percent sustainable -- and which are not.
AWS caters for a number of different regions and availability zones, but as Johnston notes, only five regions, four of which are public, are 100 percent sustainable -- and this information is not clearly signposted in the console.
The extension simply shades the public, sustainable regions in green and provides a link to the AWS sustainability page. At present, the public sustainable regions appear to be the EU (Ireland), Canada (Central), US West (Oregon), and EU (Frankfurt).
In addition, the extension links to a Cloud Sustainability white paper (Google Docs) co-authored by Johnston and the editor of Microscaling Systems Anne Currie -- alongside a link to the Sustainable Servers by 2024 petition.
The extension can be downloaded here.
AWS has committed to 100 percent renewable energy usage for its global infrastructure in the future, but for now, this extension is an interesting way for businesses to monitor their carbon footprint in the cloud services arena.
ZDNet has reached out to AWS and will update if we hear back.