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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

Google Cloud Is Betting On Gen AI To Drive Sustainability

The urgency to adopt sustainable practices is more pronounced in today's global business environment. This encompasses reducing carbon footprints, aligning with regulatory reporting requirements, enhancing transparency in supply chains, and promoting exemplary corporate stewardship. At its recent Google Cloud Next conference, Google Cloud highlighted its conviction that the pathway to fast-track sustainability initiatives is through deploying sophisticated, bespoke IT solutions designed to operate worldwide. In line with such conviction, Google Cloud launched a series of AI-enabled solutions aimed at supporting clients in uncovering fresh approaches to gauge, refine, and transform their business operations sustainably. 


At Google Cloud Next, four key sustainability initiatives were launched:

  • New Environment APIs on Google Maps Platform, including Solar, Pollen, and Air Quality APIs. These products utilize AI and machine learning to analyze aerial imagery and environmental data, providing current information on solar potential, air quality, and pollen levels. The Solar API aids solar installers in optimizing panel layouts by offering insights into sunlight exposure and the consequent energy savings for buildings.

  • A new BigQuery connector to Google Earth Engine, the enhanced interoperability between the two platforms facilitates easier workflow management and enables new analytics merging raster and tabular data. Google Cloud partner Woza leverages this to help consumer packaged goods companies monitor the effects of farming at the field level.

  • Carbon Footprint for Google Workspace enables companies to monitor and understand the carbon emissions derived using Workspace services like Gmail or Drive. This tool complements the existing Google Cloud Carbon Footprint, which helps customers manage the carbon emissions related to their Google Cloud Platform electricity usage.

  • An initiative with Deloitte in which Deloitte and Google Cloud are fostering the uptake of sustainability solutions, introducing a fleet solution for electric vehicles to optimize resources, telematics, and assess climate impacts. Collaborating with Climate Engine, they aid firms like NatWest in understanding their clients' environmental impacts. Deloitte has also joined the fast-growing Google Cloud Ready - Sustainability partner program to accelerate the adoption of sustainability solutions. 


These AI-enabled tools usher in revolutionary insights, empowering companies to champion greater global sustainability. As you might know, carbon emissions are categorized into three scopes: one, two, and three. Many organizations are now grasping the implications of scopes one and two, but scope three, which encompasses everything else, remains somewhat elusive.


It's often said that scope three is just a collection of everyone else's scope one and two emissions. However, to achieve true transparency, we must address scope three emissions substantially and methodically, which fundamentally revolves around leveraging data. Because of the intricacies and interdependences of the different carbon emissions scopes, it is critical to foster collaboration across the supply chain and the broader tech echo system to fasten the pace of sustainability. Google Cloud's history shows how it has been a proponent of collaboration and creating united communities.


This is precisely where the company believes it can significantly leverage technology to impact sustainability initiatives. In an interview during Next, Jen Bennett, Sr. Director, Sustainability, Office of the CTO, Google highlighted how geospatial technology became a vital tool as it emerged prominently across internal sustainability projects, eventually leading to the commercialization of Earth Engine. What is particularly impressive about this platform is its robust community of over 50,000 researchers and academics engaged in science-based environmental measurements. It's reminiscent of the Kaggle community for AI — a collaborative hub where data scientists rallied to solve presented issues. Drawing from that spirit of unity and shared responsibility is essential as we navigate the path of sustainability." We envision a cooperative space equipped with data tools designed for large-scale operations, putting us in an advantageous position. My aspiration is that we methodically address this issue, albeit it isn't a straightforward task given the timeframe it demands," said Bennett.


Indeed, the road ahead is fraught with complex challenges encompassing sustainability, not forgetting the pressing concerns regarding the scarcity of essential metals and raw materials. 


Thus, it becomes crucial to cultivate transparency that unveils our advancements and the hurdles. This approach is vital for various stakeholders, including policymakers, governments, corporate entities, and eventually, every individual in this economy, facilitating informed and concerted efforts towards a sustainable future. It calls for collective vigilance and action, grounded in the realities we face and the resources we share.


But we cannot talk about Generative AI without considering the technology's impact on carbon emissions. Transparency is the key to fostering innovation, particularly in devising more efficient ways to handle processors and similar elements. It's an exciting time; we're on the brink of seeing carbon footprints becoming a standard metric akin to how we view billing data. This standardization will not only facilitate better decision-making among developers but also enable businesses to fully grasp their impact.

Google Cloud initiated this trend with its free carbon footprint tool, setting a precedent followed by many competitors. Bennett is optimistic that the industry will continue to prioritize transparency, ushering in a period of informed, conscientious decision-making based on measurable data.


As the availability of data increases and, with it, the ability for Generative AI to provide insights cannot happen without transparency on the data and the model side. This is why transparency should not just be an add-on but a fundamental aspect, revered as much as cost and security considerations in business operations. The goal is to have carbon footprint data at the forefront, guiding developers and businesses toward choices that are not only smart but also sustainable. This shift will be pivotal in helping everyone understand and undertake responsible actions in terms of environmental impact. It is a hopeful and promising trajectory toward a future where sustainability is as crucial as cost-efficiency and security.


Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.

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