Google sustainability lead explains how the company is building a greener cloud as environmental concerns become a key battleground against rivals Amazon and Microsoft

Google sustainability lead explains how the company is building a greener cloud as environmental concerns become a key battleground against rivals Amazon and Microsoft
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Google sustainability lead explains how the company is building a greener cloud as environmental concerns become a key battleground against rivals Amazon and Microsoft
Jen Bennett, the sustainability lead and technical director at Google's Office of the chief technology officer.Google
  • Google sustainability lead Jen Bennett helps the company plan its sustainability strategy.
  • Google has also worked with customers like UPS and Unilever to become more energy efficient.
  • Bennett helps customers narrow down where they can be most impactful in becoming more sustainable.

With the planet heating up, executives and customers have sustainability efforts to minimize the impacts of climate change on their minds.

Still, it can be tough for companies to collect the data they need to prioritize which technologies to focus their efforts on. That's where Jen Bennett — Google's sustainability lead — steps in. In her role as a technical director at Google's office of the chief technology officer, Bennett works with Google's engineering teams and customers to determine how companies can invest in technology to support their sustainability strategies. Oftentimes, it's good for business, too, she told Insider.

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"A key part of my mission is to understand being a technologist and entertaining different technologies, and how we pair it up and match it to priorities in business," Bennett said.

Increasingly, hitting sustainability goals has become a battleground for cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. The cloud giants can use sustainability to attract customers interested in reducing their carbon footprints, experts say.


A survey that Google Cloud commissioned with Harris Poll showed that roughly two-thirds of nearly 1,500 executives interviewed consider environmental, social, and governance initiatives that invest in the ethical impact of a company to be top priorities.

That's why Google set a goal to have net-zero emissions across all its operations, giving it both more sustainable operations and a competitive edge. To do this, the search giant has invested in renewable energy and machine-learning technologies to make its data centers and cloud more energy efficient.

Google plans to extend those sustainability efforts to its corporate customers, too. Google aims to help customers gather the data they need to understand their emissions to make better decisions.

Companies may bring a problem — like how to use less energy — to Google, and Bennett's team strategizes how to use technology to solve that problem. For example, customers would better understand when it's effective to move their applications to more efficient data centers, or shut down projects that are no longer running but still use computing power.

When Google first started working with the delivery firm UPS, its goal was to improve its delivery costs by using its technology for better routing. The firms were also able to reduce fuel consumption by 10 million gallons of gas per year, Bennett said.


"Historically, we might have seen sustainability and climate action as sort of the purview of activists," Bennett said. "What we're starting to see is there are many cases where sustainability is actually the right business. It's good for business and the planet."

Google approaches sustainability by focusing on what's most impactful first

Sustainable decision-making can be complicated, especially with so many stakeholders involved throughout the process, according to Bennett.

Bennett not only works with Google's core-sustainability team, but also partners with the finance, product management, engineering, research, supply chain, and investment branches. Outside of Google, she meets with customers, nonprofit organizations, partners, and policymakers.

But first, sustainability efforts start with understanding the problem at hand, Bennett said. For example, Google had to spend time with the consumer-goods company Unilever to better understand all the steps it takes to source its palm oil. Then, it could provide solutions on how technology can help make that process more sustainable.

Still, that can be difficult because talking about sustainability can be broad. So, Bennett said her team tries to narrow it down to the most impactful areas.


"This is also one of the challenges of sustainability. When it's overly complex, it's hard for people to decide what to do first or what to try," Bennett said.

To narrow down where to start, the Google sustainability team focuses on a few specific areas. Google prioritizes productivity, simple decision-making, what would be most impactful, and how long the project takes, according to Bennett.

"What we've learned over time is as enterprises and individuals, we try to simplify," Bennett said. "We've created systems that allow people to make decisions quickly."