Cloudbusting: Google’s Sustainability Initiatives

I’ve had some fun times over the years with Cloudreach. I first met the folks at Cloudreach in 2018, when they were a Blackstone portfolio company and I was in the technology team at Blackstone. As believers in cloud transformation, we got along great! After joining Google in 2019, for one reason or another, I didn’t have too many opportunities to collaborate with my Cloudreach friends, but fortunately that has changed!

In December, I was fortunate to be a guest on Cloudreach’s Cloudbusting Podcast, where I spoke with Jez and Dave about Google’s sustainability initiatives. This was my first time being a guest on a podcast, and it was a very fun experience! Sustainability has been increasingly important theme for me, and there was a lot to talk about.

Listen on Spotify or wherever you like to get your podcasts (more links here)

We started with some definitions of terms that people use when talking about sustainability: decarbonization, which I defined as transitioning energy production from fossil fuel sources to carbon-free & renewable sources, and ESG, which refers to focusing on environmental, social, and governance aspects of companies and is a common term in the world of sustainable finance, especially for investors.

Next we talked about Google’s approach to sustainability, including all of the highlights from Google’s sustainability journey — carbon neutral in 2007, 100% renewable energy matching since 2017, and the most recent goal of moving to 24×7 carbon free energy by 2030. On this last point, I mentioned that this goal is a moonshot, which it definitely is! But it’s also a series of roofshots, since we’re incrementally making progress towards this goal. In fact, as we move each cloud region to a higher percentage of carbon-free energy, organizations can move their cloud workloads accordingly to minimize footprint. Note that this data is also available in machine-readable formats in GitHub and BigQuery.

UNFCCC_COP26_13Nov21_ClosingPlenary_KiaraWorth-137
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and Alok Sharma, COP26 President, during the closing plenary. Photo by UNclimatechange on flickr.

Then we discussed COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. This was happening when this podcast was recorded on November 5th, 2021. I reviewed the main goals for the conference including keeping 1.5 alive, protecting communities and habitat, and mobilizing finance. We didn’t get too deep into these points, and there was just so much happening at COP that it was frankly a little overwhelming. I’m still catching up several months later!

It will become part of your job as an engineer to understand your cloud carbon footprint

From there we discussed the sustainability announcements from Google Cloud Next ’21, our annual conference. This included Carbon Footprint, where you can see the gross carbon emissions associated with the electricity generation of your cloud usage by product, project, and region. The hosts made a great connection here between “Sustainability Ops” and FinOps, which is super insightful, and allowed me to make a prediction: “It will become part of your job as an engineer to understand your cloud carbon footprint”. You heard it here! (Probably not first, others have probably made this point too, but still…) Check out this Next session to dig into how this tool works in more detail:

We also touched on Active Assist Recommender, a tool that uses machine learning to find cloud projects that are likely abandoned. The idea is that by deleting these projects, you can reduce carbon emissions.

The last major announcement we covered was the introduction of the Google Earth Engine commercial use pilot. I have to admit that I had not heard of Earth Engine before joining Google, but it’s a super impressive product that has been around for more than 10 years and has become very useful in academia for science involving earth observation. It combines petabytes of satellite imagery that is stitched together and maintained by Google with a geospatial analytics processing engine.

Google Earth Engine… think Google Earth, but for scientists

Previously, only research and nonprofit organizations have been able to use Earth Engine (by the terms of service), so the new cool thing being piloted is a commercial license that would allow for-profit companies and public sector (governments) to use it as well. One of the primary reasons for commercial organizations to use Earth Engine is to further their sustainability efforts with geospatial approaches. As an example, I talked about how Unilever is using Earth Engine to help ensure a deforestation-free supply chain for commodities like palm oil.

Finally, we wrapped up the podcast with a bit of fun in the form of “ten second recommendations” which is a regular feature of this podcast. My contribution was Ready Player Two. I particularly enjoyed the battle of the Seven Princes!

Hopefully this will be the first of many podcast experiences in the future. If you enjoyed it and would like to discuss more about sustainability, or would like to invite me to join your podcast, please connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn!

(Featured photo by me, taken in a Google office.)

2 thoughts on “Cloudbusting: Google’s Sustainability Initiatives

  1. I have doubts about the Google claim given the energy requirements of their multiple server farms but freely admit I have not looked into it and instead would want more info than them talking about what they have done. Independent outside report sort of thing.
    It ain’t new but lovingly refined these days where bullshit baffles brains and it doesn’t pay to believe without impartial evidence.
    Like back in the 80’s they told us we could get AIDS from casual contacts and so on. Then they all of a sudden figured out that it was swapping bodily fluids. Then they vilified the gays for AIDS, then blamed some bloke for screwing a monkey, and it went on for years.

    Yes I am sceptical of just accepting claims on face value.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, and I agree that independent review is important.

      I would encourage checking out Google’s Environmental Report 2021: https://www.gstatic.com/gumdrop/sustainability/google-2021-environmental-report.pdf. Much of the Environmental Data in this report, starting on page 11, has been reviewed by an independent auditor (EY) and the results of their review are published here: https://www.gstatic.com/gumdrop/sustainability/alphabet-fy2020-environmental-indicators-assurance-letter.pdf

      More generally, I do think we need more thorough sustainability disclosure requirements for companies around the world, similar to what happens now with financial reporting. This would not completely solve the trust issues you’re bringing up, but I think it would go a long way to help, since there would be serious consequences for misreporting sustainability metrics.

      Liked by 2 people

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