ESG tools for cloud computing can be a distraction

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have gained significant traction recently. Giving yourself a ranking to prove your worth as a good citizen of the planet seems like a great idea.

These tools are worth looking at, but the reality is they may be reporting a false positive. They don’t look at the total inefficiencies of the overall cloud architecture, only at specific tactical metrics that could prove meaningless. Indeed, it provides good scores for enterprises underperforming in sustainability and using public cloud providers.

The desire for good ESG cred

The increasing pressure on cloud providers to enhance their ESG performance is a testament to the growing awareness of the environmental impact of data center growth. I live in northern Virginia, where data centers are scattered everywhere.

The growth of data centers is unprecedented. Ten years ago, we were all bragging about how cloud computing would shut down many of these power-hungry data centers. This is not what those pushing the cloud predicted when it first began, and given the growth of AI, we’ll see the industry build as many data centers as possible, considering that they will be at total capacity shortly after they open.

The interest in good ESG scores is not out of charity. Many investors look for good ESG scores before they toss money at companies. Thus, it’s in the best interest of everyone from startups to established enterprises to pump up that ESG score to keep the money flowing.

Cloud computing providers now offer ESG tools to assist their customers in accessing and improving their scores. However, reliance on these tools could provide a false feeling of supremacy or actually work against the reason ESG exists: to reduce carbon output.

It’s time to face the paradox that many enterprises boasting high ESG ratings unknowingly contribute to ecological degradation through excessive cloud-computing resource consumption. The tools supporting sustainability metrics only tell half the story and miss the most essential part of the equation.

The ESG score paradox

Of course, each enterprise has different levels of success regarding sustainability and the use of cloud resources. My issue is that the tools can tell you the number of resources you’re using and ways to use them more efficiently, which is good, but they don’t get to the source of the problem, namely you’ve created an inefficient architecture that uses too much power and money.

Too many companies believed they could lift and shift their way to cloud computing success. Their applications and data sets still operate unchanged on public cloud providers and are being evaluated by these tools to examine how they are leveraging and optimizing cloud resources.

I assert that the core problem is not that companies could be using a few fewer storage instances or moving to more power-efficient servers; it’s that their systems are using more than four times the number of resources that they should be due to the inefficient way that the solutions were configured and the lack of engineering and architecture that went into making them better, more efficient applications.

For instance, say you’ve purchased a car, and you’re looking at the energy efficiency of that car. The tools that exist now will tell you how to change a few engine components for better fuel efficiency and perhaps will suggest some changes to driving behaviors, but they won’t tell you that your car, as engineered, is wildly inefficient when considering its purpose and function.

What needs to change?

I don’t blame the cloud providers or tools; they are doing all they can to provide their customers with helpful information. Without knowing the specific business requirements, they have no way of determining whether the architecture is efficient unless they do a much deeper dive with the customer.

The core concern is that enterprises overlook the more significant issue of poor design and efficient cloud-based systems since they are led to believe that using these tools is improving their sustainability and their overall ESG score. Thus, it’s a false positive that perhaps does give them a high ESG score, but that’s not an accurate indication of their true sustainability values. ESG and the supporting tools could be working against the objectives of why ESG was established in the first place.

So, if you’re wondering why everyone has amazing ESG scores and data centers are still being built by the thousands, this is why. Perhaps it’s time we evaluated the true metrics that determine the success or failure of this stuff. Right now, we’re on the wrong track.

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