In 2019, Emily Ma, Head of Google Cloud’s Food for Good program, began her journey as a Googler conducting waste audits. Every day, Ma and her team members would collect every trash bag in their Google facility, cordon it off in a designated outdoor space, and sort through all of it piece by piece. The goal of this process was to categorize the waste to understand what the Googlers in the building threw away every day. One particular insight emerged very quickly: office workers, like people everywhere, waste a lot of food.
When Ma was working on supply chain hardware, she says, waste yields of less than 95% were considered “unconscionable.” By comparison, she adds with emphasis, “The food system has a 60% yield.” Ma started multiple teams at Google to enhance transparency for supply chains within the company and beyond. They used tens of thousands of video recordings of people throwing away food to build computer vision algorithms that recognize trends in food waste disposal. These trends align with what we already know: “Our food system is designed to overproduce.”
Since 2014, Google Food has successfully saved 10 Million pounds of food waste, which is equivalent to over 25,000 pounds of carbon and 1.25 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all Google office spaces with water for 5 years. “There is a genius in setting out bold goals,” says Ma. By 2025, Google plans to reduce food waste per Googler by 50%, and divert all of that food waste away from landfill, where it would otherwise emit methane gas. To do so, Ma’s teams plans to focus their efforts in five areas: sourcing and procurement, operations optimization, user behavior change, physical infrastructure, and food recovery.
In 2019, Google made a commitment to “circularity” to maximize reuse of finite resources in Google’s operations and empower others to do the same. Google is also the anchor funder for a $10 million catalytic grant through ReFED, the premiere food waste research organization in the United States. To learn more about these and the other efforts Ma has taken on with Google Food, watch the presentation she gave at C2C Global’s Clean Clouds, Happy Earth event below: