The startup turning clouds green
Can Greenpixie beat the big cloud providers' own sustainability offerings?
Today’s startup wants to become a key part of every tech company’s cloud stack. Armed with £250,000 in pre-seed funding led by Ascension, it’s tackling the problem of how tech companies maximise their sustainability while making the most of the not always entirely green world of cloud computing.
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Greenpixie offers something the cloud giants won’t, for better sustainability
Running a network of data centres across the world, full of servers chugging away 24/7, isn’t particularly good for the environment. So it’s no surprise that cloud providers are increasingly keen to tout their green credentials.
But just because the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, and Google might be going easier on the planet than they used to, it doesn’t mean that your own use of their services is automatically green.
The concept of a ‘digital carbon footprint’—the environmental impact of a business pushing data around the world—has been an increasing talking point in recent years. A new London-based startup called Greenpixie wants to help companies navigate the process of reducing theirs.
With a mission to, as their website puts it, “demystify the environmental impact of cloud computing,” Greenpixie offers tools to help businesses understand their digital carbon footprint and to reduce it.
In its initial form, the startup’s Cloud NetZero product supports Amazon Web Services, with support for Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, Oracle, Salesforce and others on the way. It looks at customers’ cloud usage and provides an analysis dashboard, along with a carbon reduction plan to help them take action.
So for example, if a customer is using servers in Australia, it might suggest switching to servers in the Nordics, which have a lower carbon intensity. In the future, Greenpixie plans to be able to automate as many of these actions as possible.
Greenpixie is starting out by targeting tech companies. Co-founder and CTO Will Tinney says SaaS businesses are particularly interested in this offering.
“They might not have many other emission factors other than the software that they're providing, so you see much larger percentages of their emissions being due to the cloud. Then they have a sustainability department or they're interested in getting to net zero, [and they think] ‘how do we add this new sustainability angle into trying to get our technical systems sorted?’
“That's when we say, ‘Okay, we're here to help with that’. And that's where we see the most interest at the moment. But I do think pretty much any company who uses cloud systems will be able to use this eventually.”
Making an impact
Tinney met Greenpixie’s other co-founder (and CEO) John Ridd at university and after a stint in employment after graduating, they came together to build a tech startup in the digital marketing space. But they realised there was a more interesting opportunity in tackling ‘digital carbon’, which led them to spend time with the Carbon13 venture builder programme in Cambridge.
“It gave us the balls to take a zoom out and think ‘how are we going to make the most effective change in the sustainability space… And also what is going to be a bigger business potential?’”, says Tinney. “So this is where we really started focusing on cloud emissions and how we can negate them. There's a lot of waste and inefficiencies in the way that the cloud, and technology in general, is built.“
“Digital emissions… by some estimates are 4% of global emissions. Some are even more than that, especially when it comes to cloud computing and data centres,” adds Ridd. “We really feel this is the only vertical within the sustainability space where you can utilise scalable software to directly reduce carbon emissions at source, because there's a data trail which our software can hook up into.
“And by detecting these setups and then giving actionable steps to reduce the cloud carbon footprint at source, we felt that we could use the scalability of software that investors know so well, and the big returns, with equal returns for reducing carbon. We've been excited about the digital and digital emissions angle for a long time and that's where we're going to stay,” Ridd says.
A boiling ocean of competition
Greenpixie’s most obvious competition is the consultants who come in and do a version of what the startup does but in a more manual way. “It is much more expensive than our product would be, and also it's still not really utilising as accurate methods as a very clear, replicable algorithm that you can use time and time again,” says Tinney.
A more formidable form of competition comes from the cloud providers themselves. For example, Microsoft offers an Azure emissions impact dashboard, and Google recently launched similar tools to those Greenpixie is building, aimed at its enterprise customers.
“[Google’s product] is frankly very good - much better than we expected them to do and much, much more than, than, say, Amazon has done already.” says Tinney.
“But it's still trapped within these individual worlds. Google is never going to try and optimise AWS or anything outside of Google. I think that's where we really come in. There's always going to be a bit of an incentive misalignment for Google telling you to reduce usage and reduce emissions. So what we're looking to do is the things that they can't.”
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