Google, SAP partner to host social entrepreneurship contest

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Google and SAP are announcing a new contest to promote the idea of a "circular economy."

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Google and SAP are announcing a new contest to find entrepreneurs with viable, revenue-generating business plans that promote sustainable consumption and production. Both SAP and Google have prioritized sustainability within their own businesses. With this contest, called Circular Economy 2030, they intend to showcase how other businesses can use Google and SAP tools to develop their own sustainable business models.

Google and SAP, which have had a cloud technology partnership since 2017, have a "shared vision," Google Cloud CMO Alison Wagonfeld said to ZDNet.

"We want to help businesses transform," she said, "not just to grow their business but to do it in a way that includes broader goals like helping the environment and sustainability."

The contest is premised on the concept of a "circular economy," which refers to a holistic system that designs out waste and pollution, keeps products in use, and regenerates natural resources. That could mean anything from eco-friendly packaging solutions to sustainable agriculture.  The judges will look for ideas that use both Google Cloud and SAP technology to deploy their plan at scale.

Part of the purpose of the contest is to support a specific goal within the United Nations' 2030 Agenda -- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Wagonfeld said that she and her SAP counterpart, SAP CMO Alicia Tillman, began discussing last year, "What are the [UN] Sustainable Development Goals that could benefit from modern technology, specifically AI?"

Google is also this week publishing a white paper that explores the ways AI can contribute to a circular economy. For instance, the white paper says, "AI can enhance and accelerate the development of new products, components, and materials fit for a circular economy through iterative machine-learning-assisted design processes that allow for rapid prototyping and testing."

Sustainability has been part of Google's broader mission for years, and just this week the company announced the expansion of its renewable energy investments. Google Cloud also sees its ability to help other companies achieve sustainability as a competitive advantage in the cloud market.

"It's broadening the idea of what business transformation is to be inclusive of sustainability," Wagonfeld said. "When we're working with CIOs and CEOs, we can help stimulate broader thinking. [Moving to the cloud] doesn't mean just doing everything you're doing today but in the cloud, but reimagining how a company operates, how it uses its supply chain and can save money."

To judge the Circular Economy 2030 submissions, Google is working with experts in the circular economy and sustainable development, including UN Environment, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. They'll choose five finalists to participate in an in-person hackathon, with the grand prize of $200,000 of in-kind benefits and the chance to participate in the Google Cloud for Startups' Bootcamp. The remaining four finalists will each receive $45,000 in in-kind benefits, plus one-on-one mentorship.

Social entrepreneurs from around the world are invited to submit proposals by March 17.

While the Circular Economy 2030 focuses specifically on responsible consumption and production, Google is also this week announcing the winners of an earlier contest that promoted all 17 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

Called Visualize 2030, the contest challenged university students to analyze datasets from the World Bank and the UN, visualize the data with Google Data Studio, and to ultimately tell a story about how at least two of the 17 SDGs influence each other. More than 1,000 students participated, and the winners will each receive a $10,000 cash prize and publication and promotion by Google Cloud.