John Taylor is the Global Lead for Cloud Transformation at Version 1. He has over 30 years of experience working with technology and continual change, and has been with Version 1 for over 6 years.

The cloud: a very tangible intangible

Cloud by its very name is thought of as an ethereal and intangible thing. From the poetry of William Wordsworth to its ubiquity in powering modern business, it remains something many of us are cognisant of but can’t physically grasp. We know it’s out there, somewhere – we up/download from it, and we might deploy applications to it, but its lack of tactile presence creates a feeling of abstractness. 

But the cloud is very much a tangible thing, powered by a network of considerable data centres, all of which require power and cooling. This ethereal cloud is actually a very physical thing that has significant energy demands by square foot  to keep it operational. And, whilst there are many stats on the global energy usage of data centres out there, it is certainly true that there is evidence of these cloud backbones  hitting expansion issues in the likes of the EU and concerns over  environmental impacts in the likes of the US.  

Unless people completely reject and resist modern life, we are all likely to use cloud directly or indirectly. The daily act of searching on Google or Bing or using your mobile phone is likely to be utilising some resource, somewhere, in the cloud. 

And this individual activity, no matter how minor, has an environmental impact. Think of that as a collective activity and the impact increases exponentially. 

In fact, governments and regulatory bodies worldwide are implementing policies and regulations to encourage and foster cloud sustainability .  

The UK government’s “Greening Government: ICT and Digital Services Strategy 2020-2025” emphasises the role of ICT and digital services in achieving the country’s net-zero carbon commitment by 2050. Similarly, the European Union plans to compile a set of rules for cloud service users and providers in Europe, known as the EU Cloud Rulebook. 

Hyperscaler Sustainability 

Big-tech cloud vendors like AWS and Microsoft are promoting environmental sustainability within the private sector – in fact they are promoting environmental sustainability more generally and investing in this space. They offer cloud services positioned as environmentally friendly and advocate for policies and regulations that encourage sustainable practices. However, whilst this is resolutely the right action to take, there may be more to do in terms of transparency around carbon disclosures .  

Regardless of what the cloud providers are doing, we should all be thinking about being more sustainable.  

The Enterprise Perspective on Cloud Sustainability 

Enterprises today are heavily reliant on the cloud for everything from storing data and running applications to utilising advanced AI capabilities. This dependency has become ingrained in modern business, yet it comes with a growing environmental footprint. Every byte, every computation, and every watt of energy consumed contributes to this burden, amplified by the sheer number of organisations globally. 

Furthermore, data growth is exponential. For instance, some statistics suggest the volume of data doubled in the past two years compared to the previous thirty years combined. These increasing demands, by their very nature, present sustainability challenges. 

As responsible enterprises, we must not only understand the environmental impact of our cloud usage but also actively take steps to mitigate it. This goes beyond merely choosing sustainable cloud providers. Building a culture of environmental awareness within our organisations is crucial, fostering responsible cloud usage practices. We must own our cloud footprint. 

Optimising our cloud usage presents a win-win opportunity. Every unnecessary data transfer, inefficient algorithm, byte stored, and idle virtual machine eliminated not only reduces our environmental footprint but also improves efficiency and potentially reduces costs. While individual actions may seem insignificant, collective efforts across numerous organisations can create a substantial impact. 

For instance, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust employed Version 1’s Health Planning and Budgeting solution based on Oracle EPM Cloud Planning. This engagement used Version 1’s Journey to Cloud methodology to achieve its finance transformation objectives. The solution streamlined their business planning and budgeting process, saving significant time, and indirectly contributing to sustainability by reducing resource usage.

The Role of AI in Cloud Sustainability 

AI, particularly generative AI, will become  a major driver of cloud usage into the future, if we assume that it will be increasingly part of many future digital initiatives. These algorithms require significant computational resources, leading to increased energy consumption. However, the benefits of AI are undeniable.  From streamlining business processes to driving innovation across diverse industries, AI has the potential to transform all manner of businesses. 

Furthermore, AI is increasingly playing a positive role in sustainability efforts. Research in this field explores how AI can be leveraged for environmental research and benefit (e.g., optimising energy grids, and developing sustainable materials).  

However, we must acknowledge potential challenges. As the demand for AI grows, hyperscalers may face pressure to increase their capacity, potentially impacting both pricing and environmental footprint. Additionally, geopolitical, and environmental shifts, such as fluctuations in chip supply and energy costs, could significantly impact AI’s long-term sustainability. The same geopolitical and environmental changes may generally affect cloud pricing.  

As we embrace AI, it is clear we must also consider its environmental impact. This brings us back to the concept of corporate and personal responsibility. We need to ensure that our use of AI – and cloud is sustainable, minimising its environmental impact while maximising its benefits. 

Yet, the narrative of sustainability extends beyond the confines of enterprises. It permeates the fabric of our everyday digital interactions. 

The Impact of Our Digital Habits 

Our digital habits also play a significant role in cloud sustainability. Every photo we upload, every song we stream, and every email we send contributes to our cloud footprint. As individuals, we need to be mindful of these habits. Reducing our digital waste, optimising our data usage, and choosing sustainable digital services can all contribute to a more sustainable cloud. 

And the same equally applies to enterprises.  


In conclusion, the sustainability of cloud computing extends far beyond the responsibility of cloud providers and data centres. It rests heavily on our collective shoulders – as individuals, enterprises, and members of athe global community.  

Cultivating a culture of environmental consciousness is crucial, fostering responsible digital habits and sustainable business practices. We must move beyond the out of sight, out of mind mentality regarding data and strive for optimised usage, not indefinite retention, as the latter  will, over time, significantly increase the environmental footprint. 

Collective action is the key to achieving tangible impact.  As we continue to navigate and evolve the cloud, we must remember that every decision we make, and every action we take, has an impact. And it’s up to us all to ensure that this impact is a positive one for our planet.   

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to embracing imperfection in the pursuit of discovery. Remember, the journey is often the destination.

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