How sustainable is Google?

There are many companies that in the recent years have incorporated strategies to become sustainable, fundamentally through the conversion of their processes towards renewable energy. This same objective is what motivates the Internet giant Google, to begin a process to operate 100% with renewable energy and become “the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world,” in 2017. Nowadays, their commitments reach 2.6000 megawatts of eolic and solar energy, and Google’s data centers use half the energy of industry typical facilities. In the United States, all data centers have received voluntary certifications of management systems ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001, becoming the first large technology company to receive this type of external certification.

At the end of 2016, the company published 10 of the actions that make the world’s best-known multinational search engine more sustainable: 

  1. Management Systems Certifications. First large technology company to receive externals certifications ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001.
  2. Renewable sources. 33% of the energy used by the company comes from energy sources that, after being used, can be regenerated naturally or artificially.
  3. Sustainable lifestyle (internally)
  4. Investment in projects that will eventually produce more clean energy than the company consume.
  5. Use of Google Apps for Business. According to Google data, a company can save between 65 and 85% of carbon emissions when using this tool, since the cloud in which it services operates is very large and distributes the sources more efficiently.
  6. Gmail App. One of its users can save up to 80 times more energy than using local servers.
  7. Use of Google Earth and Google Earth Engine products for social and ecological purposes. For example, they have helped to stop the deforestation in various parts of the world and also to create a cultural map of the Surui tribe of the Amazon. On the other hand, the maps of Google Maps promote sustainable transport by including viable routes by bicycle or public transport.
  8. The company recycles 100% of the electronic equipment used in its data centres. Since 2007, it has recycled enough obsoletes servers to save the purchase of more than 300,000.
  9. Its buildings pay special attention to sustainable construction, eliminating the use of paints, furniture or other materials that contain chemical substances that may be harmful to the environment and people. Moreover, is preferred a smart designthat allows the access of light and air, as well as the efficient use of energy and other sources.
  10. Google is co-funder of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, created in 2007, and member of The Green Grid, two global groups devoted to the highest sustainability and efficiency standards.

It is in Google’s hands to reduce carbon emissions?

Electricity consumption, in addition to being an expense, directly impacts on the environment with carbon dioxide emissions that influence the atmosphere. Google, who has always focused on minimizing environmental impact, has revealed its data:Google’s data centers consume 1% of the electricity consumed by all the data centers in the world. While it is true that Google uses sustainable energy for its big data centers and, therefore, emissions are reduced since the company has implemented sustainable development procedures the use of Google is not limited only to data centers, this is just the beginning of its activity. Google is consumed in our computers, in our tablets and even in our smartphones. Maybe this is the reason why the use of energy with Google consumes much more energy. Many times we do not know if the energy we are using proceeds from sustainable energy sources such as the energy used by Google or not.

Are we using energy every time we click on “enter” or “search” from the Google search page?

According to Dr Alex Wissner-Gross, from Harvard University, two Google searches nearly equals the amount of CO2 generated by boiling a teapot (7 grams). As we can see, it was less polluting when the encyclopedia was consulted years ago. Although, it is also true that Google is helping us to reduce the emissions in other fields, for example, in the case of old DVDs. The CO2 emissions emitted by a DVD are equivalent to watching Youtube continuously for 3 days. That is good, but the problem is that the DVD cost money, but Youtube is free and accessible at any time and by any user with access to the network.

Where can the solution to this problem be?

Increasingly, we are more people and we want more Internet. So much so that the reduction in emission generated by Google “personally” in data centers and other areas are no longer agile enough to curb the unbridled consumerism of the domestic Internet and, consequently, electric energy. It lies in our hands to make a proper use of this accessible tool in order to contribute to a more sustainable future for all.

Gal·la Millán and Marta Camins