Well-Architected: Understanding Sustainability


Over the past few years, we’ve seen an intensifying spotlight on the concept of cloud sustainability. This notion has risen to prominence because it harmoniously merges two core elements that have grown to be of utmost importance in our world today: the call for environmental responsibility and the pressing need for businesses to optimise their costs.

As we move further into the digital era, almost every industry has been touched by some form of digital transformation. This shift has led to a surging demand for cloud services, resulting in an exponential increase in the quantity of data we produce and the energy we consume to process and store it. This escalating demand underscores the importance for organisations of all sizes and across all industries to embrace and integrate sustainable practices into their operations. Such practices should align with their environmental objectives and contribute positively towards global sustainability goals.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), a globally recognised leader and pioneer in the cloud computing landscape, has acknowledged this critical need. In response, they have developed a comprehensive suite of tools and services designed to empower organisations on their journey towards cloud sustainability. AWS’s commitment to supporting businesses in pursuing sustainable operations is evident in their recently introduced sustainability pillar, an integral part of the AWS Well-Architected Framework.

This blog post is a look through the landscape of cloud sustainability. It aims to distil the most effective strategies businesses can employ to create sustainable cloud ecosystems. Using the sustainability pillar as our guide, we will examine the practices and principles that define the path to a sustainable, cost-effective cloud environment.

Understanding the Sustainability Pillar in AWS

The AWS Well-Architected Framework has stood as a lighthouse for businesses navigating the complex seas of cloud operations. Known for its robust and insightful pillars that shed light on different aspects of cloud optimisation, AWS recently unveiled an addition to this existing foundation: the sustainability pillar. This new addition focuses on designing, constructing, and managing workloads in a manner that consciously minimises their environmental footprint and champions sustainable practices.

The sustainability pillar underscores several key areas for attention:

  • Understanding your environmental impact
  • Establishing tangible and measurable sustainability goals
  • Maximising utilisation of resources to ensure no energy is unnecessarily expended

This pillar also advocates being receptive to advancements in more efficient hardware and software offerings with sustainability in mind. It champions the use of managed services, a practice that can significantly boost resource utilisation and thus drive down the environmental impact. Finally, it stresses the importance of reducing the downstream impact of your cloud workloads. This can be achieved by crafting services that demand less energy or resources from end users.

Implementing these design principles does not solely serve the important purpose of environmental preservation. It also offers tangible, bottom-line benefits for organisations. By adhering to these practices, organisations will also enhance cloud cost efficiency, creating a doubly compelling case for organisations to ardently pursue cloud sustainability.

To deepen your understanding, let’s break down the design principles laid out in AWS’s sustainability pillar:

  1. Understanding your impact: This refers to measuring the impact of your cloud workload and modelling the future impact of your workload. It’s crucial to understand how your decisions affect the environment, including impacts from customer use and from decommissioning and retirement of your products. This data can be used to establish key performance indicators (KPIs), find ways to improve productivity while reducing impact, and estimate the effect of proposed changes over time.
  2. Establishing sustainability goals: For every cloud workload, establish long-term sustainability goals, such as reducing the compute and storage resources required per transaction. Goals provide a roadmap for supporting the broader sustainability objectives of your business, identifying regressions, and prioritising areas of potential improvement.

Green Cloud: Environmental Benefits

Amid growing environmental concerns, the “Green Cloud” concept takes centre stage. AWS’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its substantial investments in renewable energy to power its data centres. It is forecasting that all of its operations will be powered with 100% renewable energy by 2025. By hosting applications and workloads on the AWS Cloud, organisations can indirectly participate in AWS’s renewable energy initiative, significantly reducing their carbon footprint compared to maintaining traditional on-premises infrastructure.

The Green Cloud approach yields multiple environmental benefits. A critical one is the reduction in energy consumption, which subsequently minimises reliance on fossil fuels and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, by harnessing the cloud’s dynamic scalability, organisations can precisely match their infrastructure requirements with their needs, avoiding resource overprovisioning and unnecessary waste. For instance, leveraging Amazon EC2 Auto-Scaling helped WeTransfer drive a staggering 78% reduction in the emissions from server use in 2022, as the core business continued to expand.

But what does this look like in practice? It starts with understanding the potential environmental benefits and cost savings associated with cloud migration. By moving away from traditional, on-premises servers and towards a cloud-based infrastructure, organisations can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. This not only results in decreased energy usage and associated costs but also helps promote a more sustainable future.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, migrating to the cloud can also help mitigate other environmental impacts. For example, cloud data centres are typically more energy-efficient than traditional ones, and cloud service providers often utilise renewable energy sources. This, coupled with the fact that the cloud enables more efficient use of resources, can result in significant environmental benefits.

Cost Optimisation and Cloud Cost Efficiency

As the adage goes, “A penny saved is a penny earned”. Pursuing cloud sustainability isn’t just about being environmentally responsible – it’s also about being financially smart. AWS’s pay-as-you-go pricing model, coupled with its powerful resource optimisation capabilities, offers organisations granular control over their cloud costs. Here are some strategies to achieve cost optimisation in tandem with your cloud sustainability efforts:

  1. Right-sizing resources: AWS offers a suite of tools and services designed to help organisations dissect their workload requirements and determine the appropriate resource types and sizes. Organisations that right-size continually are likely to pay 36 percent less than those running unoptimised instances.
  2. Monitoring and optimisation: AWS provides powerful monitoring and optimisation tools, such as AWS Cost Explorer and AWS Trusted Advisor. These tools offer insights into resource usage patterns and associated costs, enabling organisations to pinpoint optimisation areas and devise cost-saving measures.
  3. Serverless architecture: AWS Lambda offers a serverless computing platform that abstracts away the need for managing infrastructure and resources. This approach allows organisations to concentrate on their application logic, effectively eliminating idle resources and enabling auto-scaling, translating into cost savings and improved efficiency.
  4. Spot Instances: AWS Spot Instances allow organisations to tap into spare computing capacity at substantially reduced prices. By leveraging Spot Instances for non-critical workloads or for workloads with flexible time requirements, organisations can realise impressive cost savings.

These are just a few examples of how organisations can optimise their cloud costs while improving sustainability. By taking advantage of these and other AWS features, businesses can reduce their environmental impact while improving their bottom line.


In conclusion, cloud sustainability isn’t a mere trend; it’s a necessity that yields substantial benefits for the environment and organisations. By leveraging the sustainability pillar in AWS, organisations can adopt green cloud practices that will help reduce their environmental impact. The pursuit of cloud sustainability paves the way for lower energy consumption, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and minimised e-waste. Additionally, organisations benefit from cost optimisation and increased cloud cost efficiency.

By integrating AWS’s unique pay-as-you-go pricing model, organisations can pay only for the services they use. This reduces unnecessary expenses and contributes to sustainability efforts by reducing the wastage of computational resources. Furthermore, right-sizing resources offers a path for organisations to tailor their resource allocation precisely according to their needs.

Serverless architecture is another notable AWS offering that contributes to sustainability and cost efficiency. By employing services like AWS Lambda, organisations are relieved of the necessity to manage the underlying infrastructure. This effectively eliminates idle resources, streamlines application management, and improves operational efficiency. Also, with serverless architecture, organisations have the advantage of automatically scaling resources in response to incoming traffic, ensuring optimal utilisation and contributing to cost savings.

As we stand on the cusp of a new era where sustainability is not just appreciated but expected, the best practices outlined in this post provide a solid foundation for a greener, more cost-efficient cloud journey.

In the grand scheme of things, every step taken towards sustainability, no matter how minuscule, is a stride towards a better future. Whether you’re at the threshold of your cloud sustainability journey or seeking ways to elevate your existing practices, the sustainability pillar of the AWS Well-Architected Framework provides a comprehensive guide to make your cloud operations greener and more cost-efficient. And remember, if the path seems steep or the journey daunting, professional help is just a call away. Let’s work towards a future where our cloud operations are not just cost-efficient but also environmentally responsible.