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Cloud for a larger carbon handprint

The more a company uses cloud services instead of conventional data centres, the larger its positive climate action. This can be demonstrated in many ways. The people are making purchasing decisions favour companies that can prove their commitment to climate responsibility. In the future, applications may be awarded their own ecolabels. 

As you read this, you may wonder whether there was a spelling mistake above. Why are we talking about a "handprint" rather than the familiar old "footprint"?  

But this was no mistake. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra included the term in its dictionary a couple of years ago. 

"Your carbon handprint refers to the active measures you take towards a good outcome, while a carbon footprint is passive. Your footprint is the negative impact of your emissions. The handprint delves into the positive effects of solutions for reducing energy consumption," says Jani Koivulainen, Head of Software Development at Knowit. 

Modernising the cloud solutions already in use can also have a significant carbon handprint. Many migrations carried out in the early stages resulted in applications running on virtual machines, which achieve nowhere near the level of energy savings possible in the cloud.  

One way of reducing resource consumption is to use cloud-native applications. 

"In practice, carbon dioxide has become a second currency for pricing things. Consumers also want to know where the applications are running and what action has been taken to improve sustainability," says Pekka Nurmi, Head of Strategic Development at Knowit. 

"A standardised ecolabel could be created for applications. A Nordic swan label for carbon dioxide."  

Cloud data centres offer unparalleled energy efficiency 

The extensive data centres required for cloud services could be dismissed as energy-guzzlers that churn out climate emissions. However, this is a short-sighted perspective. It would be a fairer comparison to think about the amount of energy consumed if the same resources were employed in dedicated data centres. 

"Using cloud services means more efficient use of resources. Conventional data centres are usually designed to cope with consumption peaks, like in the Christmas season. At other times, the resources are simply idling. Resources are always used optimally in the cloud," Jani Koivulainen says. 

Cloud data centres are far more energy-efficient than any small data centre, and this is backed up by extensive research. Last year, the research company IDC estimated that annual global carbon emissions could be slashed by one billion tonnes by 2024 if data processing were centralised in cloud services. 

All leading cloud service providers are committed to drastic carbon reductions and renewable energy usage. They have also developed calculators to illustrate the climate impact of cloud services. Independent calculators are also available. You can use these calculators to find out how the cloud helps to create a positive handprint. 

"We also create calculators and dashboards at Knowit, so our customers can understand and report on the sustainability impacts of their ICT environments, see how the cloud helps them take climate responsibility, and realise measurable monetary savings," Pekka Nurmi says. 

Competitive advantage through foresight 

The climate benefits of the cloud come to the fore when companies notice the full life cycle emissions of applications and purchased services. A cloud-native application environment with built-in indicators and metrics makes it effortless to maintain applications and keep them up to date. This reduces the climate burden in comparison with a conventional on-premise environment. 

"The cloud offers ready-to-use tools for application monitoring. The collected data can be used to optimise operations continuously. You will only use the resources you need throughout the application life cycle," Jani Koivulainen says.  

Companies need to consider the significance of their emissions as an aspect of sustainability. Calculations must cover the entire supply chain in increasing depth. When customers post calls for tender, they demand increasing amounts of sustainability data from suppliers of goods and services. 

"Corporate decision-makers need to ask themselves whether they take a reactive or proactive approach to climate responsibility. If they are reactive, they only begin taking action when they are legally compelled to do so. Proactive agents lay the groundwork and tackle the issues early, thereby gaining an advantage in the market," Pekka Nurmi points out. 

In Sweden, IT service providers who fail to make ambitious climate commitments may be excluded from some competitive tendering processes. This trend is gaining pace in Finland. Cloud investments that are made or rejected start to affect the bottom line when the company gains or loses customers. 

"Knowit is a member of the UN Global Compact, and it is committed to working actively to promote sustainable development and to report on its efforts annually. Climate actions are one component of this, and we aim to encourage others to follow the same path. Smart IT choices can already have a much bigger impact than anything else we do for the climate on a daily basis," Nurmi adds.


Pekka Nurmi, Head of Strategic Development, Knowit Solutions Oy. 

Jani Koivulainen, Head of Software Development, Knowit Solutions Oy. 

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