By Jake Oster, Director of Energy & Environmental Policy at Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Hard-wiring sustainability into digital transformation and innovation is crucial as societies strive to reengineer themselves to tackle Climate Change. As David Jensen, coordinator of the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) Digital Transformation Task Force, said, "We need to ensure that digital technologies amplify solutions for climate change without escalating energy and resource consumption or centralizing power. At its core, digital transformation should empower individuals, businesses, and governments to embrace sustainable behaviours, take collective action, and foster a global mindset focused on planetary health."
Data is at the centre of this challenge and opportunity
Like many business challenges, data is often important to understanding environmental problems. As a global community, we must use data in ways that benefit society. One great example is how artificial intelligence (AI) has been used to tackle deforestation. The Forest Foresight project was developed by WWF using AWS technology to predict potential areas of illegal deforestation. The process anticipates how illegal loggers will act based on past behavioural patterns. For instance, raw data concerning road locations was one of many input factors that informed forecasts, as roads provide easy logging transportation. Machine learning (ML) transforms raw data into predictive insights, empowering The WWF teams by predicting where the cutting will likely occur next.
Data is the fuel that feeds AI and ML which, in turn, ensure deeper insights can be drawn from the data and that better informed decisions can be made. The cloud enables the processing and integration of multiple data layers in real-time; cloud computing is crucial to ensuring that masses of unstructured data is usable, actionable, and can create large-scale human benefit.
AWS recognises how costly and time-consuming it can be for researchers to acquire and analyse large sustainability datasets. Thus, in 2019, AWS launched the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI). Along with scientific organisations like the UK Met Office, NASA, and Meteo in France, key datasets are identified, hosted and deployed on AWS Cloud and made publicly available. This includes weather observations, weather forecasts, climate projection data, satellite imagery, hydrological data, air quality data, and ocean forecast data. ASDI enriches the public body of knowledge available to researchers, members of civil society as well and businesses that use this data to draw important insights, and innovate sustainable solutions.
Design sustainability from the bottom up
Business operations don't have to revolve around wildlife conservation to contribute to environmental sustainability; there are many tools and methods to building digital businesses sustainably. Firstly, companies can ensure their data is stored and managed in an energy efficient way - AWS cloud computing is 80% more energy efficient than on-premise data centres*. Secondly, companies can equip themselves with tools to minimise the environmental impact of running cloud workloads. This can be achieved by using AWS's Well-Architected Pillar of Sustainability, which has been helping AWS customers improve their cloud architectures since 2021. This can involve simple choices like using the right file format, the kind of storage for your needs, or reducing compute needs by understanding times of peak demand.
By encouraging our internal teams and customers to follow these best practices, a workload's resource consumption decreases. As teams can do more with less, we can start to decouple business growth from resource usage - vital in ensuring that technologists operate sustainably.
AWS continues to implement team- and company-wide initiatives that range from compression algorithms that reduce file storage size, to ensuring hardware and equipment are designed for maximal power efficiency, to employee incentives that galvanise collective behavioural shifts towards ongoing environmental reduction targets.
Moreover, the AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool was developed to enable our customers to track the emissions of their AWS workloads, to forecast how numbers will change over time, and to achieve more sustainable outcomes. It takes into account the percentage of AWS' energy usage that comes from renewable sources as well as where customer workloads are hosted. Thus, calculations will change as Amazon's various renewable energy projects come online (AWS is on track to power all operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025; Amazon is now the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in Europe and globally).
Together towards greener pastures
Europe's transition to becoming a climate and digital leader is pushing the boundaries of technology and research. Governments and customers are demanding sustainable solutions. The UK is well placed to take advantage of the next wave of digital technologies.
Evidence shows that technology such as cloud, AI, ML have a net positive effect on businesses in addressing their own sustainability commitments. When this technology is supplemented with unprecedented levels of collaboration between cloud providers, businesses, civil society and governments, it brings to the table solutions to cross-continental challenges ranging from deforestation to regenerative agriculture to revolutionising sustainable mobility.
Organisations are already taking advantage of the power of AWS to innovate across a variety of sustainable solutions such as next-gen farming, real-time climate insights, smart and cost-effective electricity, eco-city planning, faster and more efficient food delivery, smart water consumption, and much more. Deliveroo, for instance, minimises its riders' travel times between restaurants and consumers, using ML algorithms that run on AWS. The algorithms optimise delivery routes and find the best rider for each order, so that every delivery happens as quickly as possible and produces as few emissions as possible. Shorter delivery times also mean riders can take on more orders per shift, restaurants can prepare more meals, and consumers receive hot food. Another example is free food sharing and community network app OLIO. Using AWS, Olio built a secure platform with the goal of reaching one billion users to confidently combat food waste, one signup at a time.
Existential challenges for our environment and climate will not disappear any time soon; but with the breadth of technological solutions, the potential of cloud computing, and the passion that underpins individual dreams for a brighter future, we are all in a better placed to tackle them than ever before.
Learn more about how Europe's leading companies across industries are using AWS to drive innovation and sustainability here.
*Based on 451 research
This Article is sponsored by AWS.