Don’t forget – where your cloud apps are hosted helps determine their carbon footprint


Back in July of this year (2011), the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), in conjunction with Verdantix, released a report titled Cloud Computing – The IT Solution for the 21st Century [PDF warning] which erroneously claims Cloud Computing is Green. Shortly after it was released, I wrote a long post outlining exactly where the report was flawed. I also contacted the CDP directly outlining my concerns to them and pointing them to the blog post.

Then, a couple of weeks back, when preparing my slides for my Cloud Computing’s Green Potential talk for the Cepis and Hepis Green IT conference in Athens, I discovered that Verdantix and the CDP had published

a new report [PDF] on the business and environmental benefits of cloud computing in France and the UK

Unfortunately, not only does the new report make the same mistakes as the original one, but it further compounds those errors with an even more fundamental one.

Let me explain.

In the key assumptions section of the report it talks about the metric tons of CO2/kWh in both the UK and French electricity grids (0.000521 tonnes and 0.000088 tonnes respectively). It uses these figures to extrapolate the savings in both France and the UK for companies migrating their applications to cloud computing.

So? You say. Sounds reasonable to me.

Well, the issue is that they didn’t do any work to identify where applications migrated to the cloud would be hosted. The implication being that UK applications migrated to the cloud, will be hosted on UK cloud infrastructure and French IT applications will be migrated to French hosted cloud infrastructure. In fact this would be a highly unusual scenario.

A quick look at where most cloud hosting takes place shows that the vast majority of it is occurring in the US, with quite a lot happening in Singapore with a lesser amount in Europe (and that split between Ireland, Germany, UK, etc. but almost none in France – Ireland is underestimated in the list as it doesn’t include Microsoft which has a significant Cloud hosting facility in Dublin which it is now expanding or Google’s Dublin facility).

Ok, and what about the carbon intensity of electricity generation in these countries? If a cloud application is moved to somewhere with a lower carbon intensity for electricity generation, then there is a possibility of a carbon saving. However, with the vast majority of cloud hosting still being done in the US, that isn’t a likely scenario.

This table of CO2 emissions from electricity generation, by country shows that the US has one of the most carbon intensive electrical grids in the world. France, on the other hand, with its high concentration of nuclear power (78%) has one of the least carbon intensive electricity grids in the world. While the UK grid’s carbon intensiveness at 557kg CO2/mWeh sits just above the world average of 548kg CO2/mWeh.

While it is possible (though not probable) that UK IT applications outsourced to the cloud would be hosted in a country with a lower carbon intensity than the UK, the chances of a French IT application being hosted in a country with a lower carbon intensity than France are virtually nil.

Given this, the assertion by the CDP report that

large businesses in France and the UK can reduce CO2 emissions from their IT estate by 50% compared to a scenario where there was no cloud computing.

seems, at best, extremely improbable.

One problem with coming up with reports like this is the lack of transparency from cloud providers on their locations, their energy and carbon footprints. If all cloud providers reported these metrics, it would be a far simpler matter to decide whether cloud computing is green, or not. Without these data, there is absolutely no way to say whether moving to the cloud increases or decreases CO2 emissions.

If you are wondering why the Carbon Disclosure Project and Verdantix are so bullish in their assertions that Cloud Computing is Green – if you scroll to the bottom of the report, you’ll see this:

CDP & Verdantix's motivations

This study was supported by AT&T
For more information on AT&T Cloud Solutions go to …

The report was paid for by the Cloud Solutions division of AT&T. Enough said.

Photo credit fotdmike


Do you telework?

Photo Credit DDFic

In case you missed it there was an extremely comprehensive post on the Oil Drum site the other day about teleworking.

The post struck a particular chord with me as I have been working out of home now since 2004!

The post goes through the pros and cons of teleworking and lists 28 advantages of teleworking. Personally, I love working out of home and at this point I’d find it very hard to going back to working from a central office. Working from home means I can be far more productive. I can (and often do) stay working on long after the typical 9-5 workday.

Apart from the obvious environmental benefits of teleworking, the Oil Drum article mentions many of the advantages of telecommuting for companies including:

• Improves employee satisfaction

• Reduce attrition

• Reduces unscheduled absences

• Increases productivity

• Saves employers money

• Equalizes personalities and reduces potential for discrimination

• Cuts down on wasted meetings

• Increases employee empowerment

• Increases collaboration

• Provides new employment opportunities for the un and under-employed

• Expands the talent pool

• Slows the brain drain due to retiring Boomers

• Reduces staffing redundancies and offers quick scale-up and scale-down options

• Prevents traffic accidents

• Take the pressure off our crumbling transportation infrastructure

• Insures continuity of operations in the event of a disaster

• Improves performance measurement systems

• Offers access to grants and financial incentives

Many large companies are embracing teleworking nowadays for many of the reasons listed above.

The telework coalition has an interesting facts page on teleworking which lists details such as:

  • British Telecom, which has 80,000 employees, found productivity rose 31 per cent among its 9,000 teleworkers, due to lack of disruptions, stress and commuting time
  • AT&T found two-thirds of workers offered jobs by competitors remained with the company, citing telework as a major factor in their decision.
  • The bottom line, according to Dow Chemical: Administrative costs have dropped 50% annually (15% of which was attributed to commercial real estate costs.) Productivity increased by 32.5% (10% through decreased absenteeism, 16% by working at home and 6.5% by avoiding the commute.)
  • IBM reduced real estate costs in the US by from 40-60% according to Telecommuting Review and
  • Nortel report that less than 1% of telecommuters want to stop once they have started to telecommute.

April Dunford, Nortel’s Director of Business Development, was interviewed recently about her experiences as a teleworker:

Do you telework? Does your company have a teleworking program in place?