Google has launched a suite of changes to many of its core products, with an aim to help consumers make sustainable choices more easily. After claiming the title of being the first major company to reach carbon neutrality made changes in its products to make its customers more mindful about the carbon emissions they are responsible for.
Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet, said in a prerecorded video during a virtual press event, “Today, climate change is more than a threat. It is a real and present danger. From wildfires to flooding to more frequent and severe storms, climate change is the most profound risk we face, one that affects our health, our economies and our future together on this planet.”
He added, “That means every question you ask Google, every email you send, every YouTube video you watch will be delivered without emitting any carbon into the air. We think of this as a moonshot” — a long-term bet that could have a big impact.
Here are the changes Google is making to its products. Some of these updates are available immediately and some are still down the road.
Google Maps: Routes For Better Fuel Efficiency
According to the newly made changes, Google Maps will default to the most eco-friendly route of the available choices, when the time it takes to make the trip is roughly the same as it would be without taking carbon emissions into account. This product update was announced in March, but it is taking effect in the United States starting 6th October 2021 and in Europe in 2022. The tech giant has said that it aims to expand this feature to be made available globally.
Google Maps calculates fuel usage based on the road incline, traffic congestion and traffic predictions. To make these routing recommendations, Google has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab.
According to the update, if it will take significantly longer to reach your destination by the more eco-friendly route, then customers will be able to choose between the faster or more sustainable route.
“We believe the feature will have the same impact next year as taking over 200,000 cars off the road,” Pichai has said.
Also, Google Maps is partnering with companies such as Bird and Donkey Republic to expand bike and scooter share information to 300 cities globally, including Berlin, New York, Sao Paolo and Taipei. The update will also show where bike and scooter parking is available.
Google Travel: Carbon emissions with flight info
Google will display the carbon emissions associated with a flight in the search results as of October 2021. This feature is available globally for nearly every flight.
Stephanie Horton, director of marketing for Google Commerce said, “We’re putting these numbers in context by labeling flights that have significantly higher emissions and adding a green badge to flights with significantly lower emissions.
Carbon emissions will take into account the type of aircraft and will be seat-specific, too. Business-class and first-class seats result in more carbon emissions because they take up more space. A spokesperson from Google has said that American Airlines and Lufthansa has agreed to provide fuel usage data to help Google validate its emissions info.
Flight-search platform Kayak, a unit of Booking Holdings, launched a tool earlier this year that allows travelers to sort flights by emissions. Google also aims to help consumers make sustainable choices about where they stay when they travel.
Horton remarked that in the last decade, the number of Google searches for “eco-hotel” has doubled. Acting on that input, Google has said that the search results for hotels on its portal will indicate whether “a hotel has made meaningful commitments to sustainable practices.” Specifically, hotels will appear in search results with a badge next to their name if they have received third-party certifications from Earth Check or Green Key. This feature was launched Sept. 22 this year.
Google is coordinating with the Travalyst Coalition to create an open model for calculating the carbon emissions of a flight or hotel stay to “bring standardization across the industry,” Horton said.
Sustainable Shopping Aid
Google has committed to help its customers by providing them with information about the sustainability of the products they are purchasing – especially for energy-intensive products such as furnaces, dishwashers and water heater.
Also, starting early next year, Google Search will make it easier for customers shopping for a new car to make a green-friendly choice. The portal will flag hybrid and electric cars and manufacturers to make them easier to find. Also, Google Search will surface rebate information for a hybrid or electric vehicle, compatible charging stations nearby and typical charging times. These car shopping information tools, along with one that will show total energy costs and emissions information for cars, will begin rolling out this year, with more features coming in 2022.
More Climate Focus in Search results
The company has said that by the end of October, information search results for queries about climate change will appear in a new layout. This feature will be available in English, French and Spanish.
“This new layout will show relevant information and guidance from authoritative sources like the United Nations, including concise explainers on the causes of climate change, its effects, and even actions you can take to live more sustainably, like using energy efficient appliances or taking public transit,” Horton has said.
Google is also launching a feature that shows the sustainability score of a company alongside its stock ticker and current trading price. The sustainability score comes from the Climate Disclosure Project.
The tech giant has also made a mention of couple of projects it is still piloting that are not yet widely available. For example, it is working on a research project to optimize the efficiency of traffic lights across an entire city.
“Inefficient traffic lights are bad for the environment, and they’re bad for public health. That’s because idling cars … mean wasted fuel and more street-level air pollution,” , said Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt.
So far, the team at Google doing research on traffic lights has conducted pilot projects at four locations in Israel, Brandt said. Those pilots have resulted in a 10% to 20% reduction in fuel use and time standing at intersections. The next pilot for this project will be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Also, Google is using artificial intelligence and aerial imagery to see where trees are in cities and where tree coverage is lacking. The beta project is called Tree Canopy Insights.