Cloud sustainability - Sustainability Pillar

Cloud sustainability

The discipline of sustainability addresses the long-term environmental, economic, and societal impact of your business activities. The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Your business or organization can have negative environmental impacts like direct or indirect carbon emissions, unrecyclable waste, and damage to shared resources like clean water.

When building cloud workloads, the practice of sustainability is understanding the impacts of the services used, quantifying impacts through the entire workload lifecycle, and applying design principles and best practices to reduce these impacts. This document focuses on environmental impacts, especially energy consumption and efficiency, since they are important levers for architects to inform direct action to reduce resource usage.

When focusing on environmental impacts, you should understand how these impacts are typically accounted for and the follow-on impacts to your organization’s own emissions accounting. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol organizes carbon emissions into the following scopes, along with relevant emission examples within each scope for a cloud provider such as AWS:

  • Scope 1: All direct emissions from the activities of an organization or under its control. For example, fuel combustion by data center backup generators.

  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used to power data centers and other facilities. For example, emissions from commercial power generation.

  • Scope 3: All other indirect emissions from activities of an organization from sources it doesn’t control. AWS examples include emissions related to data center construction, and the manufacture and transportation of IT hardware deployed in data centers.

From an AWS customer perspective, emissions from your workloads running on AWS are accounted for as indirect emissions, and part of your Scope 3 emissions. Each workload deployed generates a fraction of the total AWS emissions from each of the previous scopes. The actual amount varies per workload and depends on several factors including the AWS services used, the energy consumed by those services, the carbon intensity of the electric grids serving the AWS data centers where they run, and the AWS procurement of renewable energy.

This document first describes a shared responsibility model for environmental sustainability, and then provides architectural best practices so you can minimize the impact of your workloads by reducing the total resources required for them to run in AWS data centers.