As a stand-up comedian Katy Bolan once opened for Jerry Seinfeld but the focus of her professional career as Sustainability Lead at Google TV is no laughing matter - Adrian Pennington reports.
“We used to think the environment was a problem for the next generation but you only need look at the weather and climate patterns today to see it’s effecting us now,” she said.
“The pace at which this issue is becoming more and more urgent is alarming. I don’t think it’s a problem that only sustainability leads need to work on. Everybody needs to look at what they are doing and see if there’s a way to make it more sustainable because that’s the only way we are going to get through this.”
Bolan – who will be speaking as part of the Changemakers programme at IBC2023 - has spent nine years at Alphabet and the last two devising and leading the Sustainability for Google TV program. She is also working on a similar program for platforms and ecosystems at Google which covers products like Chrome books and the OS Android Wear.
The main target is to reduce the carbon footprint of TV power consumption.
“We want to enable end-users to make more sustainable choices,” she explained. “We’ve worked on reducing power consumption in stand-by mode when the TV is not being used at all and giving users options in terms of what the power levels can be. For instance, they may just want an essential mode where there’s no network activity other than critical updates which is the lowest power consumption mode (and an EU regulatory requirement). Additional options enable users to have network features like Cast available to wake-up the TV in low power consumption mode.”
Google has internal measures for the success of these efforts and Bolan said they estimate there will be a “good reduction” in overall power consumption once all the new stand by modes roll out by 2027. “It does make a difference,” she said.
Studies have shown that one of the worst polluting areas of the TV industry is streaming video to the home. This falls outside of Bolan’s remit and largely outside of Google’s purview since technically this is the responsibility of either the user’s local network or the content provider themselves. However, it is an area that Google is looking at, particularly in reducing carbon waste from its data centres.
The tech giant, which said it has been carbon neutral since 2007, has also pledged to hit the far more demanding standard of net-zero by 2030.
“It’s an ambitious goal for which renewable energy sources will be key,” Bolan said. “Obviously, we cannot control sources of energy for consumer households but as the world move towards electrification and renewable forms of energy then that is the best hope for reducing levels of carbon emissions from streaming.”
Google is hugely influential on a global scale but it cannot affect the profound change required to turnaround business policy or consumer lifestyles alone. Bolan comes to IBC2023 urging everyone to act:
“There are a lot of efforts out there addressing the climate crisis but it cannot be done in a silo. Sustainability is heavily partnership oriented and it is so important to keep talking about the issue because the more awareness there is the more our partners are able to understand the impact of their products and the more we can get them to partner with us to come up with solutions that benefit people, the planet and the product.”
She is optimistic for change since consumer power will drive business to act. “Research shows users increasingly prefer products that are sustainable and not just greenwashing. Users are smart and savvy. Many companies in our industry also recognise that the sustainable product is the superior product and will be the one that users will ultimately benefit from the most, especially when you connect reduced power consumption to reduced user’s electricity bills. But we do need to work together. We cannot do it alone.”
There is plenty of work to be done not least in educating industry partners. While some partners that Google TV works with on sustainability are “eager and looking forward and wanting to work with us” others, said Bolan, are “still trying to find solutions that are both sustainable and that provide a good economic transition for them.
“We’re finding other partners who did not initially have the resources to work on sustainability are now starting to make space for it. It’s difficult work. Change management can be very hard especially in the supply chain. Ultimately, we want to go all the way up the supply chain and ensure as much sustainability as possible.”
Bolan’s passion for the issue goes back two decades and stems from her interest in the sustainable built environment. Through her consulting firm, Pierre Noir she a LEED Green Associate accredited by the U.S. Green Building Council and member of the Urban Green Council in NYC. She is also certified in Sustainable Building Design by the highly acclaimed Pratt Institute where she focused on passive house design. She holds several patents for sustainable energy related innovations.
“A major hobby of mine is interior design and the health of ourselves and of our living systems. Outside of Google, I work in the built environment and sustainable interior design and regenerative agriculture. It just feels like we can create a cleaner world and environment for ourselves and for our children.”
“There wasn’t as much interest in these past 20 years to hire people like myself to work in those fields but that is changing now which is why I work full time on sustainability. I love the work we do at Google because we have the ability to really impact millions of users and make changes that can move that needle.”
And, as unlikely as it may seem, Bolan hasn’t yet given up her other sideline as a stand-up. She has performed at various New York comedy clubs, including the Gotham Comedy Club, and the famed Comedy Cellar.
See Bolan speak at IBC2023 on the panel for ‘Sustainability in Production: Uncle Albert and the new kids on the block’, part of the Changemakers programme, 18 Sept 11.45-12.30 in the Forum.