From education to employment

Every Cloud Has A Green Lining: How Cloud Computing Supports The Climate Change Crisis & Why Your Students Will Expect It

Jamie E Smith, Executive Chairman C-Learning

If you think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money” so said American scientist Guy McPherson, and it’s a view shared by an increasing number of people globally as evidenced by the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ phenomenon. 

Swedish teenager and environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg who once saidThis is not a one time thing, this is our entire future” has gained international recognition having started a small local campaign by protesting outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign saying “School strike for climate” something that soon became a School climate strike movement following which Greta was asked to address the United National Climate Change Conference.

Shortly afterwards some demonstrations were including more than a million participants. Greta has since featured on the cover of Time magazine who regard her as one of the most influential people of 2019 and I have a feeling she is just getting started, not least because the next generation see her as a role model and educators need to be aware that they are heading to a College near you soon.

As Forbes has noted, Generation Z and those who follow have a passionate desire to make a positive impact on the world and are passionate about environmental causes. For technology leaders in education who are willing to adapt and evolve to be more sustainable the good news is that if cloud computing had a colour it would be green.

Clouds Signal A Changing Environment

Generation Z will experience climate change in a far greater way than previous generations. Heatwaves and more extreme weather will become the norm unless drastic action is taken and it’s happening now. On the 26th February 2019 the warmest winter day in the UK in history was recorded at the same time as parts of the UK being warmer than Malibu, Barcelona and Crete.

Additionally according to the Living Planet report published by the Zoological Society of London between 1970 and 2014 some 60% the size of mammals, fish, birds and reptiles declined as the impact of rapid climate change shapes the world around us. For insurers, the increasing risks associated with flooding, heatwaves creating fires and wider are now starting to impact on every aspect of our commercial and personal world.

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Most Colleges have an environmental or sustainability policy but few mandate a cloud first approach despite its credentials. Let’s take a look at why moving your campuses to the cloud makes sense not least because there is no planet B. 

Moving systems to the cloud or using ones already there can reduce your carbon footprint. For example Google has been carbon neutral for over a decade and in 2017 it purchased enough renewable energy to power its entire global operations. The impact of this approach for those using Google technologies is confidence that IT systems are energy efficient, sustainable and empowering your community with technology that is helping to address global climate challenges. More details can be found in the Google Environmental Report 2018.

The New Reality Means Virtual

There’s a term, dematerialisation, that broadly means replacing physical assets with virtual ones. In the case of cloud first systems this can mean a lower carbon footprint at the same time as enabling organisations like Colleges to be far more operationally efficient and agile whilst also reducing their environmental impact. Video calls through cloud hosted software reduce the need to physically travel so should be the default choice, reducing carbon emissions as well as increasing productivity as people can spend more time on higher value activity.

Leading cloud based technologies like Google G Suite also enable people to work remotely on any device at any location. Again this results in lower environmental impact through less vehicles on the road so less carbon emissions.

Sharing is Caring

Servers deployed physically on estates tends to have a lower rate of utilisation than cloud based equivalents. This is partly due to an approach based on deployments that have to cover the peak usage, when in reality the average utilisation is far short of that leading to underutilised technology that is delivering a very poor return on investment and definitely not good for the environment. 

Cloud based servers, whilst private and secure to the end user, are a shared resource in terms of their structure meaning the cloud computing data centre is operating at optimum efficiency. 

Reduced Energy Consumption

Cloud by design systems use less energy in comparison to traditional computing approaches. Compare a traditional laptop or desktop computer with a cloud by design Chromebook for example and depending on the model and usage pattern energy usage can be reduced by anything between 65-85%. Spread that across an organisation with several thousand traditional energy hungry computers and the environmental impact and return on investment is unrivalled. 


In a study titled ‘The Environmental Benefits of Cloud Computing’ Paula Bajdor of Czestochowa University of Technology lists the primary demonstrable benefits of cloud computing as energy saving, reduced hardware, time saving, reduced financial costs, reduced wastage and reduced carbon emissions.

Wider research by Salesforce demonstrated a reduction of more than 170,000 tons of carbon by using cloud more effectively (the equivalent to taking more than 37,000 cars off the road) and wider research by Microsoft and others arrives at similar dramatic outcomes. 

“We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not” – Greta Thunberg.

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Students entering College now likely do not care about your impending visit from Ofsted, your Self Assessment Report or your Quality Improvement Plan (at least, I have never met one that does), but they do care about what they care about and the environment and climate crisis ranks high on their agenda.

So what are your College credentials where technology is concerned?

  • Still buying laptops as you have for decades? 
  • Still buying on-site servers and storage?
  • Still expecting students to travel to lessons they don’t need to travel to but your systems are forcing them to?

If so, the words of a wise man I know once said ‘never do something you can’t later defend should you need to’. So if these examples sound like you and Greta arrives at your College to challenge you about it, what’s your defence?

For those thinking it’s unlikely Greta will make the personal journey to your College I would urge you to think again, because a Greta is most definitely coming to your College soon albeit with a different name and likely not from Sweden, but they expect you to care about the world and to be able to demonstrate it with action and they won’t be that tolerant of excuses.

Twenty years ago people could be forgiven for buying technology that they were familiar with because it made life easier, but not anymore. The message for IT leaders now is evolve or face an extinction rebellion.

If you’re not sure of your IT environmental credentials it’s something you need to know. Research funded by Google and carried out by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in collaboration with Northwestern University demonstrated that transitioning frequently used on premise applications to the cloud cut energy consumption by 87%.

They worked out the average savings on energy could be as high as 85%. So if you are a School, College or University and one of the 90 million educators globally using Google G Suite, you have a compelling and attractive proposition to the next generation who care passionately about the environment and working smarter.

The impact of cloud computing is far reaching when it comes to helping our environment. By reducing the volume of physical products and equipment we also reduce the resources required to dispose of this equipment and its associated environmental impact.

Additionally paper storage and usage is increasingly becoming something that belongs to the past. Documents can be signed electronically and stored electronically. Furthermore this approach enhances your GDPR credentials since paper poses one of the biggest data protection risks an organisation has. I once found personal medical records, salary information and information relating to a criminal record in the paper bin next to a photocopier in a public area. Worth checking what’s in yours, if you still have them.

American politician and environmentalist Al Gore has stated:

The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences”.

For students heading to College this period of consequences is right here, right now. For College leaders the old Native American proverb thatWe do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children” directly applies.

For those procuring new systems there is a responsibility now to provide technologies that are aligned to the values and futures of the next generation because they are intrinsically linked. Given this, when it comes to the procurement of new technology it has to be cloud by design because as British environmentalist and writer Jonathon Porritt has said, “The future will be green, or not at all”.

Thinking more widely than technology alone, I subscribe to the view of American writer Ernest Hemingway who saidThe Earth is a fine place, and worth fighting for”. Indeed it is.

Educators are uniquely placed to be part of the climate crisis fight not least because as Chair of the Northern College for Adults, public speaker and edtech advisor Bob Harrison said at a recent event where he was speaking, “Our future is in their heads, but their future is in our hands”.

Thinking about the future I look to the Schoolchildren and their climate change strikes and can’t help but feel that the students are teaching the world a lesson when it comes to climate change.

My hope is that for those seeking to enhance their environmental credentials through technology they recognise this and take a cloud first approach. If we do that then every cloud can indeed have a green lining.

Jamie E Smith, Executive Chairman, C-Learning

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