Sustainability in the procurement of cloud services

Do you want to put sustainable IT services out to tender, but are not sure how to do it? The new procurement law provides clear guidelines, but does not show the way.

by Rüdiger Vietze

Senior Consultant

March 26, 2024

As a consultant with many years of experience in public procurement processes and a strong commitment to sustainability, I wrote a thesis on the procurement of sustainable cloud services as part of the CAS 'Public Procurement'. The aim of the thesis was to develop a blueprint that provides transparent methods and customizable criteria for the procurement of sustainable cloud services. In this blog post, I am happy to share these findings with a wider audience, especially procurement officers, to raise awareness and competence for sustainable procurement.

Why sustainable cloud services?

The question of why the procurement of sustainable cloud services is of increasing interest can be easily recognized by the following three factors: Firstly, the global aggregated energy and other resource consumption of data centers is recording a steady increase. At the same time, the absolute volume and market share of cloud-based services is growing continuously. In addition, awareness of sustainability issues and sustainable procurement in particular is increasing, as shown by the very prominent position in revised public procurement laws (BöB/IVöB): Sustainability is mentioned there as the first bullet point in Art. 2 "Purpose". The procurement of sustainable cloud services is therefore at the heart of all these trends.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is a holistic concept that aims to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the opportunities of future generations and encompasses environmental, economic and social dimensions, as we described in our blog Is sustainable IT procurement always more expensive?


Is sustainable IT procurement always more expensive?

by Rüdiger Vietzem & Christian Klein

What has been incorporated into the Blueprint?

Various standards, guidelines and findings were incorporated into the creation of the blueprint for my CAS work, such as the FOEN's relevance matrix[1], the Federal Chancellery's resource and environmental standards[2] and SECO's social guidelines[3]. In addition, search results from various tendering platforms, results of a broader web search and, last but not least, experience from our own procurement projects were taken into account.

What is the method?

In the individual case of a cloud service procurement, we follow a structured process consisting of various phases. First, a thorough needs analysis is carried out, in which the requirements and objectives of the procurement office are identified. This is followed by an analysis of which type of cloud provider and which services are actually required (from the individual SaaS-based application to the hyperscaler); last but not least, legal and security-related aspects are also taken into account. A market study is also essential in this procurement context. Based on these analyses, criteria are developed and elaborated, validated and fine-tuned. This structured approach is an integral part of the atrete procurement methodology, which is continuously maintained and applied.

In addition to the analyses described above, further questions should be answered: Do the criteria fit the procurement object and type of cloud provider, are the three sustainability aspects (social, economic and ecological) taken into account, and is the number of criteria manageable and manageable? Are the criteria verifiable? We also recommend critically scrutinizing the respective types of criteria (must, should) and the weighting, as well as selecting suitable types of evidence such as self-declarations, certificates or explanations.

We can simplify this process with the results we have obtained, as we have developed two sets of criteria as a "basic set" for quick and easy handling: The basic criteria, which can basically be applied to every cloud provider submission and only require minimal adjustments, and the extended criteria set, which contains additional criteria that meet the specific characteristics of the procurement project.

Example criteria

Below we show four examples from our set of around 25 sustainability criteria for cloud services.

TopicDesignationBrief description
EnvironmentEnvironmental management system
in accordance with ISO 14001
The tendered cloud provider has implemented an environmental management system in accordance with ISO 14001.

The tendered cloud provider can provide evidence of corresponding certification.
The tendered cloud provider can at least provide evidence that it has documented corresponding processes and actually implements them operationally.
EnvironmentSustainability toolsThe tendered cloud provider provides sustainability tools and supports the client with data, instruments and technical expertise to promote sustainability. These can be, for example, tools for determining the customer's carbon footprint in the cloud or exchange platforms for sustainability data.

The existence, number and scope of content, as well as the quality and informative value of the documentation of such tools are evaluated.
EnvironmentReference projects with customersThe advertised cloud provider supports or participates in exemplary sustainability projects. These may have been carried out together with, on behalf of or at customers, for example energy efficiency projects or cooperation with renewable energy projects.

The existence of reference projects, their number and scope, as well as the quality and informative value of their documentation will be assessed.
Environment and/or social issuesSupply Chain ManagementThe tendered cloud provider has an established supply chain management system that also requires its suppliers to comply with environmental and social standards.

The tendered cloud provider can provide evidence of appropriate certification or a report by an independent auditor, which shows that it also requires its suppliers to comply with environmental and social standards.
The tendered cloud provider can at least provide evidence of the existence of corresponding documented internal processes and demonstrable results.

We will continue this blog in a second part. The focus of the second part will be on explaining further examples, where we will also go into more detail about the type of criteria, the recommended number of criteria and the coverage of the three sustainability dimensions.

What experiences have you had with regard to the procurement of sustainable cloud services?
We look forward to your feedback and a lively exchange.

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