Ester Morales, Google: “We must abandon the idea that what is good for the environment is bad for business” | Technology
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Ester Morales, born in Barcelona 33 years ago, is a computer engineer at Google, where she is dedicated to helping companies fight the emergency created by global warming. She highlights the increase in searches on climate change, which has grown by 75% in the last five years in Spain, and that 97% of executives state that they plan to implement a sustainability strategy. These data, as she argues, point to an increased awareness of the environmental emergency that needs to be addressed. “Technology should be the engine that helps us fight this climate crisis. For us it is very important to be sustainable, but also to help companies to be so, ”she says.
Ask. Does the Internet pollute?
Response. To say that the Internet, in general, pollutes is incorrect. I think it would be more correct to analyze each service and which providers are providing their service, because there are very important factors such as, for example, where the application or web page that we are consulting is located. We need to consider what region it is deployed in: for example, a network or application that is hosted in a country where the sun shines little will not have as much solar power compared to an application that is located in Iowa [EE UU], where there is solar energy and it will be less carbonized. When we use an application, such as WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook, it is hosted on servers that are in some data center in the world and this infrastructure needs energy to work: a cooling system to prevent overheating and electricity to generate the necessary computation. This is really the print behind. But the best thing is to see case by case, who is serving each of the applications. I can say that the carbon footprint that is associated with all Cloud services is already emission neutral. When someone does a search on Google Search or Maps or YouTube or sends an email with Gmail, the digital footprint is already neutral. In addition, we are working so that, in 2030, not only is the footprint neutral, but all services will be free of carbon emissions. Our data centers already use more than 60% clean energy in emissions.
P. But is that energy your own or are the suppliers the ones that ensure that it comes from renewable sources?
R. We sign bilateral agreements with companies in which an amount of energy is agreed so that the electricity grid that supplies our data centers comes from renewable sources.
P. Can the cloud become a storage room for useless data that requires resources to store it?
R. It is possible that many files remain that are not accessed by users. But keep in mind that the CO₂ emissions generated by digital products are much lower than what is said. The International Energy Agency has calculated that watching an hour of HD video on a laptop consumes the same energy as four LED light bulbs. The data in our Cloud service that is not being accessed is not useless. There are users who, for a while, do not access files such as virtual machine removals or, more in the user sphere, very old photos. To avoid this waste of resources, we recently launched a tool, which is called Activate Assist and that it is part of our Google Cloud platform, which provides daily recommendations on those services and products that are not being used. It’s not always about removing them, because they may need them at some point, but it’s about making decisions based on proactive recommendations, that users take into account that these resources exist.
When we use an application, it is hosted on servers that are in some data center in the world and this infrastructure, to work, needs energy: a cooling system to avoid overheating and electricity to generate the necessary computation. This is really the print behind. But the best thing is to see case by case
P. What can a user do to help reduce that footprint?
R. We must be aware of the effect of all our daily habits, from the clothes we wear to how we get around, what we eat or how we use technology. But I want to emphasize that the CO₂ emissions generated by digital products are much, much lower. Yes, it is true that avoiding disuse and misuse is very important. But the most important thing is what electricity these devices are using, because, in the end, the key is to decarbonize our electricity networks. We’ve recently added six gigawatts of wind and solar power because what we’re trying to do is switch supplies from the power grid.
P. The big consumers of resources are companies. Are you aware of the carbon footprint?
R. There is more and more awareness and we are on the right track. In addition, many tools are being made available. The fundamental step to become aware is to have visibility of the footprint, of the emissions that are generated. At Google we are working both on creating emission vision tools and on mitigating them. For example, the Carbon Footprint Reporting tells you the emissions of all the services deployed in the cloud for free. On the other hand, for Earth Day [el 22 de abril], we launched a tool that we have developed together with the Swedish company Normative: a carbon calculator focused on small and medium-sized companies. These account for 90% of the global business fabric. 90% of the emissions of large companies come from their supply chains, which generally come from SMEs. The calculator is a completely free tool for SMEs to add their operational costs and calculate an associated estimate of both direct and indirect emissions. For example, they can add the water, electricity, and gasoline that they are using to produce their products and deliver their products. It is about raising awareness, giving visibility.
We must be aware of the effect of all our daily habits, from the clothes we wear to how we get around, what we eat or how we use technology
P. What is Google doing as a major service provider?
R. We are focused on reducing emissions, on our own energy efficiency. We have been carbon neutral since 2007. But the biggest and most ambitious of all the challenges is to operate with energy free of carbon emissions 24 hours a day in 2030. In addition, we have been working on the energy efficiency of our systems for 20 years. In fact, our data centers have seven times more computing power than five years ago with the same electrical energy consumption. We have achieved this with artificial intelligence models to detect possible anomalies and with the reduction of deficiencies in our physical equipment in the data centers to ensure that this infrastructure works under the best conditions. We also use artificial intelligence prediction models that tell us which power companies in the world provide the most renewable energy. For example, YouTube video processing or photo compression, instead of doing it in a more carbonized location, we move it to a region that is somehow more ecological and sustainable. It is important that the idea that what is good for the environment is bad for business is abandoned. We must think that, if we achieve more efficient production chains, in the end, we achieve a reduction in the electricity or water bill and, therefore, the operations will be more profitable. Sustainability is a joint effort by all of us. It is demanded by workers, consumers and all interested parties. In them we must already include the Earth.
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