Which cloud services provider is the most ethical?

Cloud computing is here to stay – and it’s only going to get bigger and more centralised. This gives the three largest providers – Google, Microsoft and Amazon – huge power. And huge responsibility. So, which cloud services provider is the most ethical?

This is an important question. Because data centres – the buildings that house the technology that powers cloud computing – are expected to consume 13% of all the energy the world uses by 2030.

Trillions of pounds will soon be at stake in the cloud services industry. Not to mention the future of the planet (and we little humans who happen to live on it).

Not to get too hyperbolic, but the ethical nature (or otherwise) of the big three could be the difference between cloud computing saving the world and playing its part in destroying it:

What makes a cloud service provider “ethical”?

What makes something “ethical” can be difficult to judge. The kind of things we think strongly indicate a commitment to being more ethical on the part of cloud service providers include:

  1. Use of renewable energy – given cloud computing’s stupefying energy usage, renewables use is critical.
  2. Work towards data centre sustainability – a major portion of that energy usage is required simply to cool the data centres. Improved designs for these and more will make a serious impact.
  3. Ethical investments – where are these companies putting their money? What are their plans for the future?
  4. Commitment to ethical standards – which green and other ethical initiatives and standards do they support?
  5. Transparency – how open are these companies about how ethical they are being?

How ethical are the major cloud services providers?

1) Google

Google has quietly been doing pretty well on the green side of cloud computing for a long time. The company claims:

  • Its cloud computing services have been carbon-neutral since 2007 (though it may have relied on “carbon offsets” to make this claim, which isn’t exactly free from controversy as an ethical strategy).
  • It has been using 100% renewable energy since 2017

Google’s future plans sound good too. It aims to make all of its data centres carbon neutral by 2030 and to be nearly at the point of completely avoiding landfills for its data centre-related e-waste.

It gets good marks for transparency too. Their relatively new Carbon Sense suite allows users to examine their carbon usage and emissions directly.

However, similarly to Amazon below, judging the ethical nature of Google as a complete entity is potentially a little more fraught. Given the massive market share of its other products, concerns over monopolistic practices and privacy are serious ones.

As far as its cloud services are concerned though, the company should get reasonably good marks for its current practices and possibly much higher ones should all of its plans and claims pay off.

2) Microsoft

One word you will often hear in relation to Microsoft’s ethical strategy is “ambitious”.

The company claims that its cloud computing platform, Microsoft Azure, has been carbon neutral since 2012. But it’s the future that looks most impressive should the company’s plans be realised.

Microsoft isn’t just aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. They say they should be carbon negative. They then plan to go further, by counterbalancing all of their historical emissions since their 1975 founding.

Part of this strategy will be to ensure all the data centres supporting Azure are using 100% renewable energy by 2025 and replenishing more water than they use by 2030. On top of this, it will “protect more land than it uses” by 2025 and be zero waste across its operations by 2030.

Overall, the company’s statement that “those of us who can afford to move faster and go further [than net zero] should do so” seems to be being borne out.

3) Amazon Web Services

The words “Amazon” and “ethical” are rarely used in the same sentence unless they are followed by  “controversy” or “scandal”.

Even taking aside the major concerns about the company’s wider treatment of its staff and failure to pay taxes in regions it operates in (notably the UK), it is also fairly opaque with how effective its efforts towards making its cloud services ethical have been.

For instance, the company claims to have reached 85% renewable energy usage as of 2021 and is aiming for 100% by 2025. However, research seems to show they may be at around 50% renewable usage as of 2023.

That said, some regions that AWS covers are more sustainable than others. US East appears to be terrible, while places like Dublin, Frankfurt, and Canada are 100% offset. Plus there are:

  • Initiatives – Amazon signed the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact and launched its Clean Energy Accelerator program in 2021.
  • Renewable investment – it claims to be the biggest global corporate investor in renewable energy. They currently have projects in progress in 18 countries and support clean-energy startups in others.

All in all, the picture with Amazon is mixed. Some of their actions sound very positive, while others are difficult to judge the veracity of – and all are set against the backdrop of its broader highly dubious moral reputation.

Which cloud services provider is the most ethical?

Our rating system is far from perfect. It also has to partially rely on facts and figures provided by the companies themselves. With that in mind, we would say the most ethical cloud services providers are, in order:

  1. Microsoft
  2. Google
  3. Amazon Web Services

It’s worth remembering that this kind of question isn’t just about scoring points. Climate change is very real.

Modern consumers increasingly prioritise choosing businesses that are ethical throughout how they provide their services too. Making sure your business is ethical and sustainable should be a concern for all of us.

Want to make sure that your cloud computing solution is as ethical and sustainable as it can be?

Let’s talk. Dial A Geek has already helped over 900 businesses in Bristol and around the UK get the best from their tech.

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