At the 2016 SXSW Eco environmental conference in Austin, Texas- Googles Sustainability Lead, Kate Brandt, promoted the concept of a “Circular” economy “in which materials are unendingly recycled through both the biological and the technical progressions in ways that are restorative and regenerative for the environment.” Brandt recently joined Google after serving as the nations chief sustainability officer in the Obama administration. Her keynote address outlined Googles impressive sustainability track record.
August 8, 2016 heralded Earth Overshoot Day -the moment we began to use more from nature than our planet can renew in a year. This is a result of overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our forests can counter balance. Brandt referred to this catastrophe and how Google is reducing our dependence on primary materials and fossil fuels.
Here are the 12 reasons why Google is scoring top marks on its sustainability report card.
- Google has been a carbon neutral business since 2007. But in 2016, by buying clean energy and buying carbon offsets their carbon footprint is down to zero. Their products enable the google users to save energy themselves.
- In 2010, Google started buying renewable energy at scale and has become the largest non-utility corporate buyer of renewable energy. This translates into having purchased 2.5 gigawatts of renewable energy which is the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road. It has committed to investing $2.5bn in renewable energy including owning stakes in power plants. Currently Google uses less than 0.01% of the world’s electricity. They purchase green power nearest to their data centers in a bid to reach their 100% renewable energy goal. This clean electricity is bought directly from wind and solar farms closest to the centers.
- Project Sunroof is Googles new tool that can accelerate the adoption of renewable energy. It allows homeowners to enter their zip code and then Google analyzes all information pertaining to their home, using Google maps, to inform people on how much they could save if they installed solar on their roof. This is available in 42 states. They are also able to connect you to a solar developer in your area.
- In 2016, across Google’s global data center operations they have diverted 86% of their waste from landfills. They have made a commitment to zero landfill waste. They are designing waste out of their system completely and engage in unique community partnerships. E.g. They partnered with Douglas County on a water reuse system to cool its data center. Half of Google data centers (6) have achieved 100% landfill diversion of all waste. The success lies in finding projects that do double duty, not only reducing or diverting waste but which have an energy savings or efficiency benefit. E.g. Mayes County deployed compactors that divert waste more effectively, give accurate weight data for tracking, reduce the number of pick-ups and which is cleaner overall for the site. County, Oklahoma, was the first one to reach Zero Waste to Landfill.
- In Google’s hometown of Mountain View, California it has a massive corporate composting program with the city. The Lean Path system is used to track food and this technology enabled the company to avoid more than 392,000 pounds of food waste going to landfills.
- Google manages its server effectively, saving millions of dollars, by focusing on maintenance and using their servers for as long as possible. It then refurbishes old servers and re-manufactures them, selling parts to secondary markets and then recycling whatever is left over. In 2015, 52% of components for machine upgrades were from refurbished inventory with Google selling almost 2 million units into the secondary market. Today their data centers are 50% more energy efficient than the industry standard.
- Google created an algorithm that learns how data center servers and cooling systems operate and now it saves the company 40% on energy costs by turning the dials in just the right way to optimize the system.
- Portico was created by Google and the Healthy Building Network to help people understand the toxins in building materials. This web APP tool has been made available to the public with Perkins+Will, The Durst Organization, Harvard University and HomeFree Affordable Housing Cohort joining as founding partners. Google is also working with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation to create solutions for making better concrete using powered recycled glass to substitute for more toxic additives like fly ash.
- Google is planning to take an open sourcing approach to its circular economy efforts to enable a wider adoption of its business models.
- Google works on a decentralized approach where they have sustainability teams working in different business units that look at how to reduce energy use, emissions and waste. E.g Geo for Good investigates the use of maps, data and machine learning to solve environmental problems. One initiative sees the creation of software and databases to monitor the health of tropical forests and to track illegal fishing.
- An innovative food product known as Coffee Flour has been utilized by Google in their kitchens where they are trying to use as much as possible from one ingredient. This flour is derived from discarded parts of a coffee plant –the coffee cherry. The Google kitchens baked goods make use of this nutritious offering.
- At Google offices worldwide they have on-campus green initiatives from solar panels on their roofs (1.9 MW of solar panels produce over 3million kWh of clean energy at Mountain View), bike-to-work program and shuttle program (equivalent of 5,700 cars off the road), greening buildings (over 4 million sq.ft) reusing of water bottles and recycling programs to name a few. Sustainability is woven into the fabric of the company culture.
Google is way ahead with its circular economy initiatives. As we head into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technology plays a deepening role in our lives, we can see how Google’s digital backbone could transform our relationship to the material world.
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