Season 9

Sustainable Growth Podcast

The LSEG Sustainable Growth Podcast tackles important issues which intersect sustainability and finance, hosted by Jane Goodland, LSEG’s Group Head of Sustainability. We talk about some of the biggest issues of our time – from climate transition and investment, green infrastructure to greenwashing, natural capital, carbon markets, financial inclusion, equity and diversity and more! We hear from leading experts from Microsoft, ISSB, IIGCC, Blackrock, IFAD, Women's World Banking, Climate Impact Partners, Planet Tracker, First Abu Dhabi Bank, London School of Economics – and many more.

In what ways can artificial intelligence help companies address sustainability challenges? In this episode, Justin Keeble, Managing Director for Global Sustainability at Google Cloud delves into Google’s sustainability strategy, why sustainability is a data challenge, and how AI could significantly mitigate climate risk. Justin also explains their partnership with HSBC and what is next for Google.

Jane Goodland, Group Head of Sustainability at LSEG

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  • Jane: [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to the LSEG Sustainable Growth Podcast, where we talk to leading experts about sustainability and finance. I'm Jane Goodland, and this week we've got something a little different for you because we're talking to Justin Keeble, who's the Managing Director for Global Sustainability at Google Cloud. But before we hear from Justin, a quick reminder to follow us so you don't miss any future episodes. And also, don't forget to rate us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or any other platform you use. Well hello, Justin, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's really great to see you.

    Justin: [00:00:38] Thank you Jane, really delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.

    Jane: [00:00:41] Well, I must admit I'm not really that much of an expert when it comes to technology, so I am in your hands, I've got to say. So let's start with an easy one, and perhaps you can kind of tell us a bit more about Google Cloud because Google is a really well-known brand. But tell us what Google Cloud is and also tell us, like how you came to do your job.

    Justin: [00:01:00] Yeah. Thanks, Jane. So I'm relatively new to Google actually. When you join Google, you're a noogler for the first year.

    Jane: [00:01:07] Are you really what happens when you're a noogler?

    Justin: [00:01:09] You actually get you get quite a cool hat.

    Jane: [00:01:11] You get a hat.

    Justin: [00:01:12] I can't see what I've done with mine. Yeah, it's a bit of a tradition. You get sent a pretty cool hat. But I've actually now been with Google for just over two years. I've spent the last 20 plus years in consulting. I joined from Accenture, where I was an MD there and one of the founders of their sustainability practice back in 2008. Before that, I was with another smaller consulting firm, Arthur Digital, but actually started my career in 1997 as an environmental manager for a retailer in London. And obviously that was very much the early days of kind of the corporate sustainability agenda, and it's changed considerably over the last three decades. My role at Google Cloud is to lead

    sustainability. It's very much focussed on how we unlock the technologies of cloud and AI to help companies address their sustainability challenges, and Google Cloud is one of Google's product areas. So think about Android and Search, YouTube maps. These are all product areas, and in cloud, we offer cloud computing to help businesses kind of modernise and transform their businesses. We have 150 products in Google Cloud. Obviously, our AI technologies and companies use those products to run and transform their businesses. So it's a really exciting time to be in that space. I kind of sit at this intersection between business strategy, technology and sustainability.

    Jane: [00:02:32] Yeah, it sounds really incredible. I think you're a very lucky chap having that job because the opportunities are endless. Now tell us a bit more about Google's sustainability strategy, because there's some obvious questions I want to get to about AI. But before we do that, map it out for me. What is the strategy for Google?

    Justin: [00:02:49] Well, Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO, has been very explicit that climate change is the biggest challenge that we all face, one that will affect every one of us in very deep and very personal ways. And it's why we're now in our third decade of climate leadership. It really comprises three parts the strategy. The first is how we empower individuals, you and I, to make more sustainable choices because we have many products that, you know, impact billions of people. And so we see a responsibility to be more helpful for end users. So think about when you're using Google Maps, the fact that we offer eco routeing now so you can make a choice. Or if you go into Google flights to book your flight, we'll surface carbon data as well as cost data for the flight, so you can make good comparisons when you're choosing your flights. So that's how we are helping individuals. Secondly, we work together with partners. So companies that we work with - governments, NGOs, academics to harness Google technologies. A great example is the Google Earth engine. I'm sure I'm sure you've used Google Earth.

    Jane: [00:03:53] It's actually my favourite app. I've got to say I love it. Yeah, I really do. I'm a bit of a Google map geek actually. Or professional snooper.

    Justin: [00:04:01] Well, the Google Earth engine is, you know, it's 90PB of data, which is a lot of data, 50 years. We can look at kind of Earth and how it's changed. And we've got many applications and use cases of where companies, organisations are using geospatial data to look at, for example, how nature is changing in their supply chains. So that's a good example of where we’re leveraging Google Cloud and analytics to help

    our companies and governments to manage environmental impacts. And then the third pillar is how we operate sustainably. Because we have a lot of infrastructure, we have an energy footprint, we have a water footprint. And so we've made some very public commitments around how we reduce that footprint.

    Jane: [00:04:45] And Justin, remind me how many people work for Google globally.

    Justin: [00:04:49] We have just shy of 160,000 people.

    Jane: [00:04:51] Okay. So yeah, so it's a really big organisation and spread geographically presumably too?

    Justin: [00:04:57] Exactly. Yeah. So obviously a global brand, we have a tremendous impact through our core products, a huge reach. And that's really why that strategy kind of sits across those three pillars.

    Jane: [00:05:08] Let's move on shall we? Because I did say that I wanted to talk about AI, because it seems to be the topic that is everywhere at the moment, and certainly when we're having conversations about sustainability there's two sides to look at that. So I'm really curious to hear from you what your view around what the sustainability risk and opportunity is when we think about AI.

    Justin: [00:05:30] Yeah, actually. It's one of the things that drew me to Google. Obviously having been in the sustainability space for some time and realising that data and analytics were going to be really at the heart of this challenge, I think in many ways sustainability is a data challenge. Obviously companies are having to, well, they have now access to vast sources of data. If you think about the proliferation of sensors, geospatial data, satellites, we can now get live data. You know, in the old world, when I think about my first job, we'd have a spreadsheet for tracking sustainability performance. But now companies are having to manage data from across their organisation. There’s data coming from operations from trucks, from supply chains. And so we need tools to be able to manage that and automate how it's analysed. And so that's part of the reason why I joined Google. Now last year, we commissioned a study with BCG to look at the potential of AI and climate. And that study found that AI has the potential to help mitigate between 5 and 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. So the equivalent of the total annual emissions of the European Union. And so we

    think that we've got a real responsibility to play, you know, a role in unlocking that potential, particularly to help businesses transform. But with that comes responsibilities, of course, because we want to manage those technologies in a responsible way. That's why we have very clear principles for responsibility with AI. But also we're very actively managing the environmental footprint of our cloud computing and AI technologies.

    Jane: [00:07:09] Because it obviously takes a lot more energy than what we're perhaps used to, right?

    Justin: [00:07:13] Yeah, exactly. So we really started this journey back in 2007. We were one of the first large global tech companies to commit to being carbon neutral. You remember that was the lexicon in those days, 2017, we were the, again, one of the first tech companies to match our global electricity consumption with 100% renewable energy. And we've done that every year since. But what we were finding was the grid wasn't decarbonising at the pace that it needed to. And we actually realised we needed another commitment, which was much more granular, that looked into the individual regions where we operate and looked at how could we match every hour of every day with carbon free energy sources? So we committed to a new goal, which we called 24/7 Carbon Free, which means each hour of each day in each region, we want to be sourcing 100% carbon free energy. That's a massive task, particularly in regions where the grid is still dominated by fossil fuels. But we're now, I think last year, about 66% of seven regions around the world are over 90% carbon free. The UK will be carbon free, over 90% carbon free next year. So we're making good progress, but obviously it requires us to work with governments around their energy system, and it requires us to actively invest in new technologies, in battery storage, in geothermal, all sorts of other novel technologies that can help us get to that goal.

    Jane: [00:08:37] So a real mixture between switching to renewable tariffs etc. where they're available, but also then presumably kind of onsite generation and various different mixtures of everything above?

    Justin: [00:08:48] And, you know, it doesn't stop there. We've also committed to a net zero value chain by 2030. And we've also committed on water to deliver 120% replenishment of water versus the water that we use. So these are big commitments. And we have a big team in Google working on them.

    Jane: [00:09:06] Yeah. Well it sounds like we're in good hands. I want to talk to you a bit more about something that I've read about, which is AI for impact, which is really kind of what you were talking about before, about how effectively how you can put your core skills and capabilities as a tech company to good use. So tell me all about that.

    Justin: [00:09:24] AI for Impact is really our central focus within Google Cloud to unlock the power of cloud and AI to help companies address their sustainability challenges. Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud CEO, has been very explicit that we're entering a new era of sustainability driven business transformation, and we believe that AI and cloud will be at the heart of enabling that business transformation. And so we've defined our strategy around four areas. The first is about measurement, because companies are really under pressure to disclose data that they trust. They need tools to manage, you know, increasing volumes of data across organisational boundaries. They also need visibility of new types of risks, right, that they've got to measure: climate risks, physical climate risks to their operations and their infrastructure. And so we're using AI to help bring that insight. With climate risk, for example, we can give acute forecasting of climate risk over the next 90 days to infrastructure or longer-term chronic climate risk visibility. The second area is around optimisation. There's so much that companies can be doing now, today with their incumbent business model to drive out carbon and cost. So think about fleet logistics. So how do we apply AI, use our technologies from Google Maps to help with partners, to help companies optimise their fleet and route logistics. How to use AI to optimise energy management in manufacturing. How can we use it to improve inventory management and supply chains. So there's a lot we can do under that second pillar around optimisation. The third pillar we're calling Grow, which is really as we see industries transition, it's opening up all sorts of new growth opportunities for all sorts of companies.

    Justin: [00:11:15] And we want to help bring visibility to that. So one example is we've launched with Google Maps a set of environmental APIs. So if you like an environmental layer in your favourite Google product, Google Maps. And one of those APIs is a solar API. It's helping particularly installers to spot which buildings are most suitable for rooftop solar, and they can specify the location. Then we can tell them what's the potential solar capacity, but also the configuration of solar panels on the roof, what type of spec, what type of tilt, all of that can be provided by that API, and that's supporting growth in that new energy ecosystem. And then the final pillar is what we're calling Build, which is how we help companies reduce their cloud footprint because we

    want them to grow confidently, because they're very acutely aware that there's a Scope 3 footprint in their use of our technologies. And so we've launched something called the Carbon Sensor Suite, which is a set of footprinting tools that help provide granular data, both location and regionally specific carbon footprinting data and market based data as well. And we can also use AI to spot workloads that are idle that can be switched off. We can divert workloads to lower carbon regions. You know, if it's windy or sunny in a particular region, we can push the workload there. We've also allowed companies to set a policy that they don't want to exceed in terms of carbon intensity. So those are the four areas that comprise what we're calling AI for Impact.

    Jane: [00:12:45] It sounds brilliant, Justin. And I think one of the things that really comes through to me when you're explaining that is that this just feels like a theme across your core business, as opposed to something which is on the side, separate and I guess maybe not seen as core. Am I right in thinking that this has been approached as a core thing?

    Justin: [00:13:06] Yeah, I think you're the same, Jane, with LSEG. I think we all recognise, in the early stages of kind of corporate sustainability, it was very much about scrambling around to get data. It was about stakeholder engagement and helping people understand and reporting and disclosure. And I think we're now moving to a world where there's much more focus on how companies create revenue and the impact that they have through the revenue that they create and how can they use their core products to drive impact. And that's very much a focus that we're seeing not just in Google Cloud, but right across Google. We've got these core capabilities. We have a mission which is to help organise the world's information and make it usable and accessible. And I think all of the examples that we've been talking through are very much aligned with that core mission.

    Jane: [00:13:52] But let's be clear, this is not necessarily entirely altruistic, right? Because this is about Google seeing where there's commercial opportunities and pursuing those. It’s not a trade off, right?

    Justin: [00:14:03] No, that's how you drive scale. Like if there's a commercial imperative, that's how you get engagement from your business. That's how you unlock investment. But I would say we're not doing this on our own. We very much want to work with partners. There are many organisations who are using Google Cloud's core

    products to drive impact, and so it's very much part of our strategy to to work with partners.

    Jane: [00:14:25] Another area I wanted to quiz you on, if I may, is something you mentioned when we met before, which was the sustainability platform, which is a type of marketplace.

    Justin: [00:14:35] Yes.

    Jane: [00:14:35] So help me understand what does that mean and what's it doing and how does it connect with what we've just been talking about?

    Justin: [00:14:41] It’s a great question and really applies to that point I was making about partners. We recognise that companies find it confusing when they look out at the market for solutions to help them address their sustainability challenges. So if you need a tool to help you with your CSRD reporting, where do you go and what solutions are out there? I think practitioners are bombarded with approaches from different solution providers, and so we thought we could make it easier for companies by creating a validated program of third party solutions, which we call Google Cloud Ready Sustainability. So we've now validated 40 third party software vendors who have got awesome products that we believe have strong efficacy. We've got proven customer references based on sound science, and that's a family that we're creating and supporting. 80% of those vendors are building their businesses on Google Cloud or exclusively on Google Cloud. All of them are building on Google Cloud. And then we help them go to market. And we think it's good for our customers because they can then buy trusted solutions. And also through our Google Cloud platform, we just make the whole procurement process easier. So where a company already has a commitment to to Google Cloud, they can access these solutions very easily.

    Jane: [00:16:05] Now this podcast normally focuses on sustainability and finance. And we've been really talking on technology. So I'm going to switch lanes a little bit. And I want to hear from you about the partnership with HSBC and Google. So tell me more about that. Because finance does play an important part here doesn't it?

    Justin: [00:16:2] Yeah of course. So this is a partnership that we launched in February this year. We're obviously building this ecosystem of climate tech companies on Google

    Cloud. And as well as those companies needing AI and cloud and access to, for example, our geospatial technologies, they also need finance to scale. And HSBC has long been a strong partner with Google Cloud. And in discussions, it became clear that HSBC could be a great partner in helping to support that ecosystem. As you might know, HSBC have a goal of committing $1 billion to climate financing. And when they looked at our Google Cloud Ready program with this validated set of partners, it becomes a really interesting platform for them to support. So in that announcement, we've announced the first venture debt deal with one of those Google Cloud ready partners, a company called LevelTen. We're really excited about kind of expanding that commercial relationship. And then HSBC is helping to facilitate access to their customer base so that HSBC customers can have access to these validated solutions. And then we will continue to grow that ecosystem because we can obviously then broker further connections for HSBC. So it's early stages, right? We've got that first deal. But it's real because deals are being closed and I think everyone's very excited about its potential.

    Jane: [00:17:41] Yeah I think it sounds really interesting and it's sort of like a really miniature example of what the bigger ecosystem needs to do eventually. There needs to be all this connectivity between finance, technology, ideas and then putting all this all together. So I think that's really exciting. Can we find out more about that? Is that on your website?

    Justin: [00:18:01] Yeah. If you search Google Cloud, HSBC Climate Tech you'll get all the information about the announcement. There you go.

    Jane: [00:18:07] There you go. A snappy search for you there. So let's finish up, because I'm keen to know what's on the horizon for Google because there's always something happening. So what's next in terms of sustainability?

    Justin: [00:18:18] Well probably call out three things. I think obviously there's huge amount of excitement around AI and in particular generative AI, which I think is really, really exciting. This is about how we're using large language models and it's allowing conversational interfaces with data. So if you think about geospatial analytics, you know, previously you might have to be an expert in Java or Python or remote sensing. We're going to now be able to have conversations with geospatial data. You know, I was talking to a large UK landowner earlier today, and non-specialists in geospatial data will be able to ask, how's crop cover changed in these locations. Or how many miles of

    hedgerow do I have. Or has there been an issue of deforestation in this location. And you'll be able to have conversations with the data in ways that you would never have done before. And I think that's massively, massively exciting. Secondly, we're really excited about expanding our Google Cloud ready ecosystem. You know, we really want to hear from other climate tech companies who want to join that partnership. We've got a very big focus on CSRD, obviously that's coming for companies.

    Justin: [00:19:21] So Watershed is one of our Google Cloud ready partners. Again, building exclusively on Google Cloud, we want to support Watershed in helping companies to meet their CSRD compliance. NGIS is an Australian company again in the ecosystem. They're helping with compliance with the EU deforestation regulations, which are also coming into effect. So we know there's real challenges in the market and we think we've got these partners to help. And then Google Maps maybe to finish with, we've launched these environmental APIs. Today we've got air quality pollen and solar. And I told you a bit about the solar API. With air quality, we've just launched, like literally in the last couple of days for general availability, an air Quality Forecast API, which provides hourly air quality, future conditions up to 96 hours ahead, which will be hugely useful for, particularly from a health point of view, to be able to understand potential air quality impacts in your location, but also for businesses. We see all sorts of applications of that API, so lots going on that we have to be excited about.

    Jane: [00:20:23] Yeah, I must say, Justin, this is a very uplifting conversation because some of the conversations err on the side of the risk and the challenge. But I must say, you have brought sunshine today because I'm feeling positive. Thank you so much for coming and sharing all of your exciting plans with us today. Thank you very much indeed.

    Justin: [00:20:41] Thank you, Jane, for having me. Take care.

    Jane: [00:20:47] So that's it for this episode of the LSEG Sustainable Growth Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and found it as uplifting as I did. If you've got questions, comments, or someone you'd like us to talk to next, then do get in touch by email at fmt@lseg.com. That's all from me, but watch out for the next episode very soon.

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About this series

The world is changing, and so is the financial sector.

As modern society goes through significant changes, the role of business and investment starts to evolve. What defines success in this world and our future?

In this podcast series, we look at how industry experts create investments and build businesses that not only generate wealth but also produce positive impacts on society and the planet. We look to uncover the issues where sustainability and finance intersect.

From ESG investing, to sustainable finance and social impact in our communities, the LSEG Sustainable Growth podcast aims to leverage data and intelligence to make the best business decisions possible.

With the help of experts from the leading global organizations, we are going to dive deep into the world of sustainability. Are you ready to start?

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