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Fireside Chat with Google’s Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt

iMasons founder and chairman Dean Nelson kicked off the April 22nd Global Member Summit with a fireside chat – virtual of course – with Google’s Sustainability Officer, Kate Brandt. They talked about the impact of COVID-19 on how people think about sustainability, about what Google is achieving in sustainability (hint: a lot), and about Infrastructure Masons’ new sustainability vision. Watch the full conversation and read the highlights below.

Highlights from the fireside chat

(Dean’s questions are in bold. Kate’s responses are in quotes, which have been edited for clarity and length.)

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed things? What are you seeing at Google? “We love search trends at Google.  We’ve seen something remarkable. Over the last 90 days search interest in ‘How to live a sustainable lifestyle’ has increased by more than 4,550%. It suggests that as people are spending more time at home they’re redoubling their commitment to live sustainably, and they see that starting at home. We’re committed at Google to helping people with tools to be more sustainable.” (Check it out: Sustainable living tips for life at home.)

Do you think we’ll return back to business as usual? “That’s a question on all of our minds. I have no doubt we’ll gain additional insights into ways we can take these lessons forward to live and work differently, including flexibility in how we work. Top of mind for me is, as we think about transitioning from response to economic recovery, it will be critical to look at low carbon. We can not only bend the curve on COVID-19 but on climate too.”

“Over the last 90 days search interest in ‘How to live a sustainable lifestyle’ has increased by more than 4,550%.” Click to tweet

Why does sustainability matter? “On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, that question is top of mind for all of us. I had the great privilege growing up in Muir Beach, CA. I spent my childhood in the forest and on the trails and playing in the tide pools. If we don’t make a really radical shift in our relationship to natural resources I’m not going to be able to do those things with my grandchildren. That’s very much what grounds me in my career. But I’m also hopeful. This is our decisive decade. There is critical role to play for companies like all of ours.”

On working for the federal government, and for Google: “Prior to Google I had the honor of serving as the first ever Federal Chief Sustainability Officer. The U.S. government is the single largest user of energy in the world, so there’s a huge opportunity to drive change across the hundreds of thousands of buildings, vehicles, procurement. What took me to Google was not only to drive change in our operations but the role technology can play in driving systems change.”

On diving deeper into the nexus between sustainability and technology: “One area I wasn’t familiar with before coming to Google was AI, which represents a huge opportunity for sustainability. For example, our AI-powered efficiency recommendation system for data centers led to a 40% reduction in the energy we use for cooling. There’s a huge opportunity for us to reduce energy consumption across our own data center fleet, and also to make [the technology] more widely available [for others to use].

“Another example is Nest Learning Thermostat, which uses machine learning to learn your temperature preferences. Nest owners have saved over 50 billion kilowatt hours of energy since we first introduced the device. That’s the equivalent of the annual electricity use of 5 million homes in the U.S. and represents $3 billion in energy bill savings. Those are just two examples of the huge potential of AI.” (Explore more: DeepMind AI Reduces Google Data Centre Cooling Bill by 40% and 50 billion reasons Nest is saying thank you this Earth Day.)

“Our AI-powered efficiency recommendation system for data centers led to a 40% reduction in the energy we use for cooling.” Click to tweet

On lessons learned working for the federal government that can be applied at Google: “For me a couple of the big takeaways were the power of driving change at scale and the power of engaging your supply chain. That kind of work showed me the power of large organizations using their buying power to drive change. That’s been the approach at Google, which predates my time here; we’ve always looked to use our scale and influence to drive change. Secondly, something I’m really proud of from my time at the White House was looking at how we could engage our federal suppliers more deeply. Similarly at Google, we’re very committed to our responsible supply chain program. We have a goal of 100% renewable energy supply chain and we see that partnership with our suppliers as key.”

On Google’s sustainability strategy: “Sustainability has truly been a core value since our founding over 20 years ago. We believe that every business has both the opportunity and the obligation to protect our planet. To that end, our mission for the program is striving to build sustainability into everything we do. But also our goal is bigger than that. It’s about truly enabling everyone – businesses, policymakers, and consumers – to live and create a more sustainable world together. Within that, we have a 5-year sustainability strategy that focuses on three core pillars: 1) accelerate the transition to carbon-free and circular economy; 2) empower users with our technology; and 3) benefit the people and places where we operate.”

“At Google, we believe that every business has both the opportunity and the obligation to protect our planet.” Click to tweet

On Google’s 5 GW renewable energy portfolio: “Renewable energy has been core to our strategy for many years. We’ve been committed to operating as a carbon neutral company since 2007. The cornerstone of that commitment is our commitment to 100% renewable energy. We’re the largest corporate purchaser of renewables in the world. Since we started this program in 2010 we’ve signed 52 renewable energy agreements across the world. Our portfolio stands at over 5 GW, and this is all power that is new to the grid.

“This isn’t just about Google or our own commitments. It’s about driving change, greening grids around the world, creating greater access to renewable energy and also spurring $7 billion in energy infrastructure globally. We shared just today the news that for the third year in row, in 2019 we matched 100% of our energy with renewable sources. As far as we know we’re the first company of our size to reach this milestone.”

On Google’s new carbon intelligent computing platform: “We’ve designed and deployed this first-of-a-kind system for our hyperscale data centers. We can now shift the time of many of our compute tasks to when lower carbon power sources like wind and solar are most plentiful. This is done without any additional hardware, without any impact to our performance. So we’re really excited about this. This helps us reduce the overall carbon footprint of our compute load. This helps us get closer to our even longer term goal which is not only 100% renewable energy but actually matching our energy 24×7 with carbon free and operating on that energy every hour of the day.” (Learn more: Our data centers now work harder when the sun shines and wind blows.)

On Infrastructure Masons’ new sustainability vision “Every click improves the future”: “It really resonates with me. Our vision around sustainability is that we need to put technology in the service of building a more sustainable world. We’ve been deeply committed to this for a long time. We’ve had tools like Google Earth Engine, partnerships with cities and nonprofits, but also we see such a huge opportunity for the technologies we’re all working with – cloud computing, geo mapping, machine learning – to drive change and touch billions of people every day and improve their lives and improve the planet.”

“Our vision around sustainability is that we need to put technology in the service of building a more sustainable world.” Click to tweet

Get involved

If you’re interested in participating in Infrastructure Masons’ sustainability initiatives – either providing your feedback during an upcoming Summit or as a member of the Sustainability Committee – you can do so via the new iMasons app. (If you don’t yet have the app, learn about it here. It’s free for all members.)

Learn more

Check out our other posts from the Spring 2020 Global Member Summit:

And there’s more to come, so check back soon!

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