Google is an American multinational technology company that specializes in Internet-related services and products, which include online advertising technologies, a search engine, cloud computing, software, and hardware. It is considered one of the five Big Tech companies along with Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.
Sustainability is one of our core values at Google. The company has been a leader on climate change since its founding over 20 years ago. Some of its key achievements include:
In 2007, Google became the first major company to become carbon neutral, and in 2019, it achieved 13 consecutive years of carbon neutrality. In 2017, it became the first major company to match 100% of annual electricity use with renewable energy, which it has done for three consecutive years. In fact, Google is the world’s largest annual corporate purchaser of renewable energy.
In 2020, the company neutralized its legacy carbon footprint since founding, making Google the first major company to be carbon neutral for its entire operating history. In 2020, it issued $5.75 billion in sustainability bonds, the largest sustainability or green bond issuance by any company in history, to fund ongoing and new environmentally or socially responsible projects.
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Fulfilling this mission and bringing the benefits of information not just to the more than 3 billion people who are already online but also to the next 4 billion requires it to use resources ever more efficiently.
1. Designing Efficient Data Centres
Google’s data centres are the heart of the company, powering products like Gmail, Google Cloud, Search, and YouTube for billions of people around the world, 24/7. At the end of 2019, the company had 19 operational campuses across 21 data centre locations on four continents, as well as 20 Google Cloud regions. By investing in the data centre locations, the company helps support the local communities, providing economic development, job creation, educational programs, and environmental and cultural projects.
Each data centre is a campus where the majority of facilities, servers, networking equipment, and cooling systems are designed from the ground up for maximum efficiency and minimal environmental impact. For more than a decade, the company has worked to make its data centres some of the most efficient in the world, improving their environmental performance even as demand for our products has dramatically risen. This has been done by designing, building, and operating each one to maximize efficient use of energy, water, and materials. These efforts have made its cloud the cleanest, most energy-efficient in the industry. This means that customers who migrate to Google Cloud can take advantage of advanced computing technologies while reducing their operations’ environmental impact via the carbon-neutral cloud, helping them to achieve their own sustainability goals.
1.1 Embedding Circularity in Data centres
Google is working to design out waste by embedding circular economy principles into its server management and reusing materials multiple times. In 2019, 19% of components used for machine upgrades were refurbished inventory. When it can’t find a new use for its equipment, it completely erases any components that stored data and then recycle or resells them. In 2019, Google resold nearly 9.9 million units into the secondary market for reuse by other organizations.
The company is committed to achieving Zero Waste to Landfill for its global data centre operations by reducing the amount of waste and finding better disposal options. In 2019, it diverted 90% of waste from the global data centre operations away from landfills. Google’s approach is based on the UL Environmental Claim Validation Procedure for Zero Waste to Landfill, which stipulates that when waste leaves the operating data centres, none of it goes to a landfill—100% is diverted to more sustainable pathways, with no more than 10% going to a waste-to-energy facility unless waste to energy can be proved more valuable than alternative diversion paths. Some waste cannot be diverted away from landfills for regulatory reasons.
As part of its water stewardship efforts, the company is working to utilize water more efficiently and exploring ways to incorporate circularity. It has a site-specific approach where it works within the constraints of the local hydrological environment to find the best solutions. Examples of sustainable water management practices in the company’s data centres include the use of innovative cooling options where possible, such as seawater in Finland, industrial canal water in Belgium, and recycled wastewater in the United States at the site in Douglas County, Georgia. In Ireland, the company optimizes water use by employing cooling using outside air. It also recirculates water within the system multiple times to get more out of every drop.
2. Advancing Carbon-Free Energy
Combating climate change requires the world to transition to a clean energy economy. In order to contribute to that, Google has made it a top priority to become more energy-efficient and to annually match every unit of energy at its facilities around the world with an equivalent unit of energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
Going even further in its commitment to switch to carbon-free energy, the company has declared that by 2030, it is aiming to run its business on carbon-free energy everywhere, at all times. The company has said that it wants to work toward a world where everyone has access to renewable energy, including its suppliers and their communities. Its renewable energy investments help increase access to clean energy while bringing benefits in the form of jobs and economic activity to communities where the projects are developed and built. Its support for clean energy goes hand in hand with reducing its carbon footprint. By improving the efficiency of its operations and buying both renewable power and high-quality carbon offsets, Google has been carbon neutral since 2007.
Google is the world’s largest annual corporate purchaser of renewable energy, based on renewable electricity purchased in MWh. From 2010 to 2019, it signed 52 agreements to purchase nearly 5.5 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity that’s new to the grid. This represents a commitment of approximately $4 billion to purchase clean energy through 2034.
2.1 The Belgium Project
In 2018, the company announced a new long-term ambition: sourcing carbon-free energy for its operations 24/7. This means that the company will evolve from matching its annual energy consumption with renewable energy to sourcing carbon-free energy around the clock. For example, Google matched 100% of its annual global electricity consumption with renewable energy in 2019, but on an hourly basis, only 61% of its data centre electricity use was matched with regional carbon-free sources. To get there, it needs to integrate new technologies, such as battery storage, into the Google portfolio. In Belgium, the company aims to soon install the first-ever battery-based system for replacing generators at a hyperscale data centre. In the event of a power disruption, the system will help keep its users’ searches, emails, and videos on the move—without the pollution associated with burning diesel. Google’s project in Belgium will be a first step that will lay the groundwork for a big vision: a world in which backup systems at data centres go from climate change problems to critical components in carbon-free energy systems.
3. Creating Sustainable Workplaces
Google strives to enable healthy spaces and places that enhances the well-being of Googlers, its communities, and the natural environment. It takes a science- and community-driven approach to managing land use on its campuses, aiming to positively impact the places where it operates by designing and building its offices with local ecology and landscape resilience in consideration.
Google has a thriving egret rookery in the middle of its Mountain View, California, campus. Since 2013, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) and Google have worked together to provide conservation guidance and educational programming for the nesting area. Conservation efforts include limiting vehicular traffic during the breeding season, establishing a protocol for collecting and caring for injured and orphaned egrets, and installing signage. Additionally, the SCVAS organizes “Egret Office Hours,” attracting hundreds of Googlers, community members, North Bayshore company employees, nature enthusiasts, school groups, and others to learn about the rookery.
The company has developed science-based Habitat Design Guidelines. By the end of 2019, it had implemented these guidelines across its headquarters, resulting in the planting of over 2,000 new native trees and the creation of over a dozen acres of new site-appropriate habitat. It has also been a leader in “re-oaking” Silicon Valley in an effort to bringing back lost native oak ecosystems.
When it comes to its office operations, Google supports its sustainability priorities with initiatives focused on topics such as water, waste, food, and transportation, and it advances these priorities at global events and through employee engagement. In 2020, Google was the first major tech company to achieve Alliance for Water Stewardship certification for its office operations, certifying its campuses in Mountain View and Los Angeles, California, and Dublin, Ireland.
Google’s 6 Pancras Square office building in London was the first building project in the world to receive ILFI Zero Carbon Certification, meaning that it was designed, constructed, and operates with a net-zero carbon impact. This building is also certified LEED Platinum and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) Excellent. During construction, it used approximately 22% less energy than standard practice, had no timber waste generated on-site, and diverted 98% of construction waste from landfills.
Flexible design strategies—such as modular, demountable systems for meeting rooms—were implemented to accommodate changing tenants and adaptable working requirements, with the goal of reducing future carbon emissions and renovation needs. By maximizing recycled content, sourcing local and low-carbon materials, and reusing existing building materials, the company helped ensure the project had a net-zero carbon impact.
4. Building Better Devices and Services
Google’s consumer hardware product area was formed just over four years ago. Its ambition is to create products that leave people, the planet, and communities better than the way they were found.
In 2019, the company shared its initial sustainability commitments for Google hardware and services, demonstrating how it is thinking about sustainability every step of the way—from design and manufacturing to shipping and reuse. One of its commitments was that by 2020, 100% of all shipments going to and from customers would be carbon neutral. The company hit this target early: As of October 2019, 100% of all shipments of Made by Google products going to and from direct customers are carbon neutral.
Another goal is that by 2022, 100% of Made by Google products will include recycled materials, with a drive to maximize recycled content whenever possible. Based on its progress to date, the company is updating its original goal and raising the bar by committing to using recycled or renewable material in at least 50% of all plastic used across all hardware products by 2025.
In the next decade of climate action, Google is focused on helping 1 billion people live more sustainably. This means ensuring that its products enable everyone to connect with the right tools, information, and guidance to take action.
4.1 Nest Thermostat
One such product by Google is Nest Thermostat. As of March 2020, Nest thermostat owners had saved over 50 billion kWh of energy since it was first introduced nearly a decade ago—that’s enough energy to light up the entire planet for five days. Nest thermostats are designed to bring more energy savings to more people. The Savings Finder and Seasonal Savings feature act like personal energy monitors, suggesting small optimizations and making schedule tweaks—sometimes by just a fraction of a degree each day—using the Home app. These little changes through the Seasonal Savings feature can add up: The average customer sees 3%–5% in energy savings on their home’s heating and cooling systems.
The new Nest Thermostat is also helping customers monitor their heating and cooling systems, detecting and sending alerts about potential issues early on. To avoid heating or cooling an empty house, Nest thermostats use sensors to automatically set themselves to an Eco temperature when no one is home.
Disclaimer: This report is largely comprised of extracts from the Google Environmental Report 2020.