It’s the week after Thanksgiving in the U.S., which means we now head to Las Vegas for the annual Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent show. This event is the company’s largest conference and is typically filled with news of product innovation from the largest player in cloud computing. While there were certainly lots of cloud computing announcements, the company did provide a significant update to its sustainability initiatives, stating that it will return more water to communities than it uses in its direct operations by 2030.
AWS set the goal for water efficiency internally in 2020 and has since made significant progress by using recycled water at 20 data centers, returning 400 million gallons to communities through six projects around the world, and reusing 96 percent of AWS’s cooling water in irrigation in U.S. West (Oregon) Region. AWS works directly with municipalities to develop infrastructure to reuse non-drinking water for its cooling systems. It also has onsite treatment facilities to return clean water to communities.
“This will ensure that AWS is having a positive impact on water availability wherever it operates,” Christopher Wellise, AWS director of sustainability said in a pre-briefing with analysts. “We’re actively developing more replenishment projects that are set to deliver billions of gallons of clean water every year to the communities in which we operate.”
AWS has positioned itself as a sustainability leader, pledging to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. Water efficiency is a pillar of AWS’s commitment for operating sustainably, along with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy efficiency, material reduction (IT equipment), and sustainable buildings.
When it comes to using 100 percent renewable energy, for example, AWS initially aimed to hit its goal by 2030. According to Wellise, AWS is likely to reach it ahead of schedule, by 2025. Meanwhile, AWS’ $2 billion Climate Pledge fund will help drive technologies that not only help its business, but also other businesses achieve a low-carbon economy, where companies use energy sources that produce low levels of GHG emissions.
Looking at specific global regions, 95 percent of AWS’s renewable energy is produced in Europe. However, some regions in the U.S. have also been able to achieve 95 percent. At the end of 2021, AWS reached 85 percent renewable energy use across its business.
Going forward, AWS is focused on both reducing its own environmental impacts and helping commercial and public sectors achieve their sustainability objectives. Sustainable buildings is one example of how AWS is reducing impact on the environment. AWS builds its data centers from low-carbon steel and concrete, with sustainable materials used for air handling systems and water efficiency systems for cooling.
“The changes have been incremental until now, but companies are recognizing that they need to get serious about the implementation of their emissions reduction activities and help build an ecosystem down the value chain, in order to make a real impact,” said Wellise.
For its customers, once a company moves to the cloud, it must also optimize its architecture for sustainability. AWS helps customers do this through its framework for sustainability, which includes AWS professional services, guidance on digital transformation, how to reinvent products, and developing sustainable business models.
The framework delivers a consistent approach for customers and partners to evaluate their architecture and implement scalable designs. It’s more than a checklist, but rather a tool that customers can use to track progress toward policies and best practices for more sustainable IT infrastructure. The idea is that customers are responsible for sustainability in the cloud, while AWS is responsible for sustainability of the cloud.
“Sustainability in the cloud is about digital transformation. We start by encouraging our customers to join the climate pledge. Whether they’re startups or other companies that are driving low-carbon technologies, we ask customers to compete for sustainability accelerator funds from AWS,” said Wellise. “We also ask companies to engage with our professional services to help develop things like low-carbon frameworks.”
AWS aims to make it easy for companies to develop their own frameworks through data democratization. Companies can access open data and commercial data through the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI), which helps researchers, scientists, and innovators advance their work on sustainability-related research. These are environment, social and governance (ESG) datasets that companies can use without having to collect and store everything themselves.
As AWS continues to grow and gain new customers, understanding the secondary effects of the company’s actions will become even more important, said Wellise. AWS is ambitious about building “the most sustainable cloud infrastructure in the world” and these initiatives are a step in the right direction.