Martijn Bertisen


While the focus of this column is on technology and how it can help build business, I thought I’d approach it from a different angle this month - via sustainability.

Like most businesses, supermarkets are under pressure to deliver quarterly results, hit the numbers and generate sales. But business pressures not only come from shareholders -they come from consumers too, and more and more of them are looking for companies to demonstrate a sense of social responsibility.

This can mean many things, including ethical sourcing in the supply chain and more sustainable manufacturing processes. A study of US consumers showed 52% of those polled would pay more for food and drink produced ethically and sustainably.

The concern for sustainability does not fall equally among age groups. Mintel research on whether consumers would like to see more eco-friendly fabrics in fashion shows it’s more important for younger millennials (44%) than baby boomers (30%). However, younger consumers will become the household shoppers of the future.

Data sits at the heart of any sustainability project. The ability to measure what matters is essential, for example the amount of water used to make a pair of jeans (1,800 gallons, since you ask). With robust data you can set targets, report progress, test and learn. Brands like Levi’s and Adidas are measuring the water used in manufacturing and figuring out how to reduce it.

Supermarkets can use data to better manage transportation, storage, stock monitoring and display of perishable produce. They save on energy bills and also cut back on food waste.

We have built super-efficient servers at Google and invested heavily in green energy. We have also applied DeepMind’s machine learning capability to our own Google data centres and used this insight to reduce the amount of energy we use for cooling by up to 40%.

Google is increasingly focused on opening up its engineering expertise and internal tools to help brands crunch data and streamline processes - with the associated benefits for sustainability. For instance, the tills alone from a major UK supermarket generated 75Gb of raw codes per day, providing an awful lot of data to analyse. It was taking over a week to identify when stock on shelf was running low. By using cloud computing technology the company managed to cut that analysis to two minutes.

Companies who put the right strategies in place will benefit from a reputational boost, motivated staff (often those ethically minded millennial consumers), greater shopper loyalty and savings from better-optimised operations and processes.

Martijn Bertisen is UK sales director at Google