Microsoft has made its Emissions Impact Dashboard – formerly known as Sustainability Calculator and designed to measure the carbon impact of cloud workloads – generally available.
If that sounds familiar, it may be because Google this week made a big deal of its Carbon Footprint preview, which claims to “measure, report and reduce your cloud carbon emissions.”
Corporations are under pressure to do something about sustainability and the ability to report on carbon usage is a starting point. Hence Microsoft’s post referencing customers like the Bühler Group, which “saw the need to track Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions” and can now use the Dashboard to do so.
What are these scopes? All is explained in this white paper, which says that Scope 1 is direct emissions such as from fuel for backup power generators, Scope 2 is emissions from energy consumed, primarily electricity, and Scope 3 is indirect emissions including such things as manufacturing and delivering servers and racks.
“For many organizations (apart from certain direct-emission heavy sectors such as manufacturing and energy), their Scope 3 emissions are much larger than their Scope 1 and 2 emissions,” the paper states.
These scopes are part of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, an international team which develops standards for quantifying emissions, created by the World Resources Initiative and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Microsoft is listed as one of the companies providing funding for the GHG Protocol but Google is not.
What does Google’s Carbon Footprint measure? According to the methodology, it covers “Google Cloud product electricity use” and “upstream emissions associated with electricity generation facilities and fuels, for most of the electricity load.” It “does not include direct emissions or indirect emissions related to the value chain (respectively Google’s Scope 1 and Scope 3 in the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol carbon reporting standards),” the docs say. The likely conclusion is that the Carbon Footprint dashboard is not an accurate measure of the actual carbon footprint of GCP usage, whereas Microsoft is at least having a stab at it.
That said, there are a few problems with Microsoft’s approach. One is that whereas Google’s Carbon Footprint is simply part of the GCP console, Microsoft’s Emissions Impact Dashboard is a Power BI Pro application that requires setup and cost. “The Emissions Impact Dashboard runs on Power BI Pro. Get the Power BI Pro free trial,” say the setup docs.
Scope 3 impact is hard to measure reliably and in the end measuring the power consumed by cloud resources is perhaps the thing of most value when it comes to cloud dashboards like this. There is also an argument that public cloud is inherently more efficient, thanks to shared resources, than on-premises computing, even if it may also be more expensive.
One thing that is certain is that reducing unnecessary consumption of computing resources will also benefit sustainability. Given the way that all these public cloud providers push customers into using an increasing amount of premium and resilient resources, and reward customers for committing to long-term usage in advance, we should be allowed some scepticism with regard to these dashboards – though it is also true that the efforts made to make their data centres more sustainable have real value, given the scale of their usage. ®