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Does Cloud Computing Really Offer a Way to Reduce Energy Demands and Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Researchers from Universities of Harvard, Imperial College and Reading launch study of environment saving potential of Cloud Computing for Europe, Brazil, China, Canada and Indonesia

Submitted by: Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative

Categories: Sustainability, Technology

Posted: Jun 26, 2013 – 03:00 PM EST


BRUSSELS, Jun. 26 /CSRwire/ - Increased use of cloud computing services will reduce the dependence on energy and help reduce global environmental damage with savings of over US$2.2 billion (€1.65 billion) and is 95% more efficient where 1 tonne of greenhouse gas (GHG) created by cloud leads to 20 tonnes abatted from customers according to the findings of a study released today by a research team from Harvard University, Imperial College and Reading University, sponsored by Microsoft Europe and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI).

The study claims that 11.2 TWh less energy will be consumed annually by the time 80% of public and private organisations in the countries studied opt to provide cloud-based email, customer relationship management and groupware solutions to their staff, beyond current levels of adoption. This translates to 75% of the energy consumed by the Capital Region of Brussels or 25% of the energy consumed by London. It is equivalent to abating 4.5 mega tonnes of CO2 emissions annually or taking 1.7+ million cars off the road. 60 per cent of these potential savings relate to small or micro-sized firms.

Dr Peter Thomond, who led the study, explains: “The findings show, contrary to the perception of power hungry data centres, that the energy efficiency of cloud infrastructure and its ‘embedded carbon’ outperform on-site services by an order of magnitude. This is only 3 cloud applications, there are hundreds more.”

The study entitled “The Enabling Technologies of a Low-Carbon Economy – a Focus on Cloud Computing” examines both the energy savings and GHG abatement potential of cloud computing in 11 countries – Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and the UK.

“Cloud-based email, CRM and groupware are only the tip of the iceberg. In 2012, GeSI published the SMARTer2020 study that found that large-scale, systems-enabled broadband and information and communication technologies could deliver a 16.5% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions and save up to US$1.9 trillion in savings by 2020,” says Luis Neves, GeSI Chairman.

The study observes hurdles to the broad adoption of cloud-based services created by both vendor and government action. National policy-making creates uncertainty, even in positive policy documents such as China’s 12th Five Year Plan of Social and Economic Development and Britain’s Carbon Reduction Commitment which provide a strong public pledge to reduce GHG emissions:

  • few government policies genuinely embrace the enabling potential of the ICT sector treat it more as part of the problem and less part of the solution;
  • government intent and targets are neither clear nor justified; and
  • governments often fail to embrace the full range of policy instruments at their disposal, in particular, there is an under utilisation of government leading by example.

“It would help market adoption if more governments walked their talk when providing their services, or considering service procurement,” Dr. Thomond comments. “This said the ultimate responsibility for the spread of enabling technologies, such as cloud, naturally lies with vendors, and they too need to act fast to overcome barriers to adoption. We need stronger economic cases for cloud, more credible, impartial evidence of how specific services enable GHG abatement, less one-size-fits all marketing approaches and more acknowledgment that the shift to cloud creates behaviour change challenges, too.”

“GeSI has taken a strong commitment to demonstrate the enabling potential of cloud computing in how it can tackle the difficult issue of climate change and boost economies”, adds Luis Neves, GeSI Chairman. “This GeSI-supported study on the carbon abatement potential of cloud computing offers the first academically rigorous and industrially relevant study of its kind. We are pleased to contribute to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates how information and communication technologies are key enablers of the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

About the study
The study will be launched at an EU Sustainable event on 27th June and also made available to the public at the Global e-Sustainability Initiative website (

The Enabling Technology 2020 study offers a new benchmark for the sector because the methods developed and the analyses completed were scientifically validated through a blind academic review process and published in a totally open and transparent manner. Consequently, this represents a rare example of scientific rigour and industrial relevance. Sponsored by Microsoft Europe and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), Dr Peter Thomond led the multi-institutional team, via the network of the Think Play Do Group, a spin-out from Imperial College London – it included researchers from Think Play Do, Reading University, Harvard Business School, Qingtech Limited and students from Imperial College and the London School of Economics.

About GeSI
The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)is a strategic partnership of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and organisations committed to creating and promoting technologies and practices that foster economic, environmental and social sustainability. Formed in 2001, GeSI’s vision is a sustainable world through responsible, ICT-enabled transformation. GeSI fosters global and open cooperation, informs the public of its members’ voluntary actions to improve their sustainability performance, and promotes technologies that foster sustainable development. GeSI has 34 members representing leading companies and associations from the ICT sector. GeSI also partners with two UN organisations – the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – as well as a range of international stakeholders committed to ICT sustainability objectives. These partnerships help shape GeSI’s global vision regarding the evolution of the ICT sector, and how it can best meet the challenges of sustainable development. For more information, see

About Qingtech
Qingtech Ltd is a spin-out business from research programmes completed at Reading University and Microsoft. It provides its clients the ability to scientifically and meaningfully quantify, understand and manage the environmental impacts of their technology services. Qingtech’s team has written and reviewed major elements of the key carbon foot-printing methods used by the GHG Protocol, ITU, ETSI, GeSI, etc. By integrating these methods and adding their own layer of scientific techniques, they now provide a unique niche service to sustainability advisory firms, academia and the ITC sector. For more information, see

About Microsoft
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Microsoft has operated in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) since 1982. In the region Microsoft employs more than 16,000 people in over 64 subsidiaries, delivering products and services in more than 139 countries and territories. For more information, see

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