As it unveiled half a dozen new products for people to buy, Google announced new efforts in its quest to be a more “sustainable” company.
It has increased use of recycled plastic in Google products (including Nest and Stadia), announced a 100 percent carbon offset program for Google product delivery, and is investing $150 million to bring renewable energy to Google’s manufacturing centers and their communities.
These latest updates follow Google’s announcement in September that it made “the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.” That included a $2 billion investment in building clean energy infrastructure.
But these programs didn’t come out of thin, smoggy air. Google made the September announcement the day before a group of its workers went on strike to demand more action on climate change.
Google has also been under fire for giving contributions to organizations and politicians that support climate change denialism. Still more concerning to some is the fact that it has been actively courting the oil and gas industry, offering products to make geological analysis, automation, and data management — and, ultimately, extraction — more efficient. To combat climate change, oil extraction (and fuel burning) needs to slow, or ideally stop. With a more streamlined system powering fossil fuel extraction, the oil and gas industry — powered in part by Google — will be doing the opposite.
It’s not just about what we build. It’s also about how we build it. So we’re investing in renewable energy projects across manufacturing hubs to match the amount of energy used in manufacturing our #madebygoogle products.
Google is clearly serious about its sustainability plans. Its internal operations have been carbon neutral since 2017, and it has committed to making all Google hardware out of recycled material by 2022. As for the devices it launched today, Nest products will be made with recycled plastic, and Stadia devices contain “some” recycled plastic.
What’s more, the billions in investments it’s made in developing and deploying renewable energy are nothing to sneeze at. The goal of its latest $150 million investment is to bring renewable energy to the communities where Google manufactures its products. It says the initiative should drive $1.5 billion in investment from Google and its “partners” (although this statement is more than a little vague — Mashable has asked Google for more information).
Eventually, it says these investments will produce enough clean energy to match the not-so-clean energy that Google expends while manufacturing its products. In this way, it’s not exactly an offset, but more of an incentive to support Google as a company. Google puts it this way:
With these investments, we expect to help generate renewable energy that is equivalent to the amount of electricity used to manufacture our Google consumer hardware products. So when you buy these products, you know you’re contributing to bringing new renewable energy to manufacturing communities.
Despite these Good Deeds, the announcement at the Made by Google event felt a bit … conspicuous. As Ivy Ross, Google’s VP of hardware design, pointed out on stage while talking about its Stadia game streaming service: “Another sustainability goal is simply reducing the amount of hardware you need to buy in the first place.”
That’s a nice way of saying that the most environmentally responsible thing you can do as a consumer is not, well, consume. That’s a pretty ballsy truth for Google to at least somewhat acknowledge while simultaneously trying to sell you products (albeit some made with recycled plastics). Still, selling you smaller, allegedly sustainable products, is not the same as not pushing new products in the first place.
To Google’s credit, however, the Pixel 3A is one of the most reparable phones around, which means Google is better at extending the life of devices than others.
We’re looking at sustainability from every angle. In addition to recycled materials and investments in renewable energy, shipping for all our #madebygoogle products is now 100% carbon neutral.1,0397:53 PM – Oct 15, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy234 people are talking about this
However, as Google employees point out in their Medium post about their intention to strike over climate change, Google’s sustainability initiatives don’t make up for the fact that it is giving cash to climate deniers, while also seeking to make money from oil and gas companies.
Further, Google is currently worth about $840 billion — $150 million is 0.00018 percent of that number, a PR-friendly drop in the bucket.
While Google’s sustainability efforts are admirable, we can’t ignore that it’s giving to the planet with one hand, while potentially taking from the planet — as it financially supports climate deniers, contracts with Big Oil, and, yes, tries to get us to buy more and more products — with a much larger hand.
Good on Google, we guess?
UPDATE: Oct. 15, 2019, 3 p.m. EDT
Google provided Mashable with more details on the timeline of its $150 million investment into manufacturing regions, and what that investment will look like.
“We anticipate investing Google’s $150M over the next several years,” Anna Meegan, head of sustainability for consumer hardware, told Mashable via email.
The investments will go into making the grids that power manufacturing areas run on sustainable energy.
“Google, along with partners, will directly invest into new renewable energy projects, across key manufacturing regions,” Meegan said. “The projects will sell power into local / regional grid systems, thus greening the grids where manufacturing occurs.”