Kate Brandt: Leading Google to Net-Zero Emissions by 2030

As the first Federal CSO in the US and now CSO for Google, sustainability trailblazer Kate Brandt is an authority on government action and corporate plans

One of our youngest recipients of the Lifetime of Achievement accolade, Google’s Kate Brandt was born to do it.

Growing up in California surrounded by nature and making the most of the great outdoors, it was almost inevitable that Brandt would devote her professional life to preserving those forests, streams, and natural wonders of her childhood.

“From the beginning, I had this deep appreciation and love for being outside,” Brandt says in an interview with Outsider Magazine. “I had this early realisation of how important it is to preserve the special places we have left.”

Still capable of qualifying for 40 Under 40 lists, Brandt has packed more into the first 15 years of her stellar career than most manage in a lifetime.

After impressing on the Obama campaign trail in Florida in 2008, Brandt was made Senior Advisor at the Department of Energy, Director for Energy and Environment in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, and Energy Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy.

Entering government positions aged just 24, Brandt carried significant responsibility, and says she cast aside any feelings of self doubt by focussing on the impact she wanted to achieve.

“When I was 24, I worked at the Pentagon. I remember looking around the table and realising I was the only woman and the only person under 50,” she told The Cut

“I felt confident knowing that I was contributing, while also learning a lot. I was excited about how I could drive the change I want to see.”

Kate Brandt Drives Google's Sustainability Goals

Brandt became the first Federal Chief Sustainability Officer in 2014, responsible for annual spend of around US$445 billion, and charged with driving sustainability initiatives across more than 360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles. 

Word is she saved the US taxpayers a cool US$18 billion.

There are few roles that would top serving your country, but when Google came knocking in 2015, the draw of the tech giant – plus a return to California – proved too much to resist. On her first day in the job, Google signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge

In some ways, Brandt’s job became even bigger, with Google’s sustainability demands akin to those of a country. 

In 2022, Google’s energy consumption reached 22.29 terawatt hours – up 75% compared to 2019. Putting that into context, if Google were a country, it would use more energy than Croatia, twice as much as Costa Rica, and 11 times the Bahamas.

The good news is, for six consecutive years under Brandt’s watch, Google has sourced 100% of its energy from renewables.

Google also uses 25 billion litres of water to cool its data centres, the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or enough water for 625,000 people.

In her role as Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Brandt leads Google’s worldwide operations, products and supply chains to drive the company’s sustainability goals.

It’s a mammoth task, given Google’s scale and influence with 190,000+ employees, and offices and data centres in more than 200 cities on six continents – but if anyone can rise to the challenge, it’s Brandt.

She has a track record of superlative achievements and accolades, including receiving the Distinguished Public Service Award from the US Navy – and the highest honour it can bestow on a citizen.

Importance of Public-Private Sector Collaboration

Brandt also recently secured the number one position in Sustainability Magazine’s Top 100 CSOs  – and in 2021 was named in Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list. 

Speaking at COP28 in Dubai late last year, Brandt highlighted the meaningful progress made on renewable energy capacity globally, and the introduction of the AI Innovation Grand Challenge to support climate action in developing countries.

However, she also said “there is still a lot of work to be done across the public and private sectors in order to facilitate the transition to a decarbonised global economy at the speed and scale required in this decisive decade.” 

She’s not wrong, and part of Brandt’s success is down to a firm belief in the importance of public-private collaboration to deliver achievable solutions.

Google is already achieving many of its bold goals. The company became carbon neutral in 2007, and aims to be carbon-free in all of its operations by 2030.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Brandt admits that those long-term targets like net zero and 24/7 carbon-free energy are “very bold and ambitious targets for any business but especially one that’s growing as rapidly as our business”. 

“Looking forward to our net-zero goals, we are focused on how we both reduce our footprint as much as possible but also manage our residual emissions. We also are considering if there is a role for high-quality carbon credits moving forward.” 

Google’s 2023 Environmental Report acknowledges the scale of the challenges ahead when it comes to transitioning to a more sustainable future. For Brandt, there may be even greater incentive to deliver on Google’s promises, while also helping wider society to tackle the climate crisis and deliver a better, brighter future for all.

“As a new mother, my commitment to this work has only grown,” Brandt told Fortune Magazine.

One thing’s for sure. There is plenty of achievement left in Brandt’s lifetime, and that can only spell good news for the rest of us, and the planet.

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