Growing sustainably: 3 industries where Google expects big changes


Businesses are always under pressure to grow. For some time now — as regulators, investors, and customers have become more concerned about carbon emissions — they’ve been under pressure to grow sustainably. 

Finally, in part because of that mounting pressure, the corporate world seems to be listening. A key reason for the current momentum behind green business initiatives is simply a shift in the economic equation, according to Google’s new sustainability director. 

“I think the biggest acceleration has been innovation, which has driven new ways of working new technologies that’s really changing,” Justin Keeble, Google Cloud’s Managing Director of Global Sustainability, told ZDNet. “So the sustainable option becomes the better option. It just makes good commercial sense to be embracing it.”

As organizations embrace sustainability goals, cloud companies like Google see an opportunity for more business. They’re stepping up the number of “climate accountability tools” they offers customers, helping them reach their sustainability goals with more and better data. 

Equipped with the right data, Keeble said, some of the industries best poised to make significant changes are energy utilities, consumer products and financial services. 

Consumer products is an obvious place to start, Keeble explained: Each step in the production process and in the supply chain is a step where a company could reduce its carbon footprint. Unilever, for instance, has used Google Cloud to capture satellite images of the ecosystems connected to the raw materials it sources from around the world. It’s using that data to build more sustainable supply chains. 

“Sustainability is a data challenge,” Keeble said. “Step one is about improving visibility for decision makers — so designers can make better decisions when they design products, or procurement managers can make better decisions when they source, or operations managers can optimize for resource efficiency.” 

Meanwhile, for utilities, transitioning to more sustainable business models also offers the opportunity to unlock new revenue streams. 

“European utilities have been shifting from a very carbon intensive energy generation to a new world of intelligent energy networks, smart grids, distributed energy solutions, electric vehicles, and EV charging infrastructure,” Keeble said. “And all of those new technologies need to be connected, so there’s a great role for a cloud provider to sit across all that infrastructure and bring intelligence and enable value creation.”

There are similar challenges in banking, he said, where there’s a there’s a real demand to better manage sustainability impacts across loan and investment portfolios. 

Prior to joining Google, Keeble worked at Accenture for 14 years as a founding member of its Global Sustainability Services practice. He’s advised CEOs and organizations across industries on sustainable business and environmental, social, and governance priorities. He likens the sustainability challenge to another fundamental business imperative: digital transformation. 

“Companies have got to fundamentally look at their supply chains, their operations and manufacturing, at their product and service mix — and they’ve got to drive dramatic transformation,” he said.


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