Google’s hardware division is still fairly new and relatively untested, but they have big plans where carbon neutrality is concerned.
Companies are often branded “innovators” and “tastemakers,” but it can often be challenging to find meaning in these designations. With the right mission and leadership, however, there are plenty of ways companies can lead by positive example. One of the ways they can do this is by raising the bar and expecting more of the companies they work with.
Google’s hardware division is still fairly new and relatively untested, but they have big plans where carbon neutrality is concerned. The “Made by Google” brand refers to phones, tablets, smart speakers, and other electronic devices developed and designed in-house by Google. Starting in 2020, the whole brand will start looking a lot greener and a lot friendlier for the planet.
What Is Google Promising to Do?
There are two main pieces to Google’s plan to become a more eco-conscious hardware brand:
- By the year 2020, all products designed and shipped by Google will be 100% carbon-neutral.
- By the year 2022, all of Google’s self-branded hardware will “contain recycled materials.”
In fact, Google’s commitment to eliminating new materials in favor of recycled materials, as much as possible, is set to begin in 2019. Google says they’re getting ready to announce a product we haven’t seen yet that will serve as a kind of flagship for their new era of eco-friendlier product designs. Some tech pundits believe it could be the anxiously awaited next-generation Google Home.
As an example of the kind of material choices being made here, Google points to standard polyester fabric. It appears in several Google products, including Google Home products. Swapping all-new polyester for fabric made from recycled plastic bottles is one of several positive steps the company has chosen to take.
Why Is ‘Carbon Neutrality’ Good for Consumers?
It’s not hard to see why Google benefits from making its in-house hardware more eco-friendly. This is a great exercise in branding and public relations. As the general public becomes bored with incremental smartphone upgrades and each new phone seems to look much like all of the others, one-way companies can stand out in the mind of consumers is by focusing on sustainability initiatives.
Google and Apple are finding their own way forward on this. Apple’s MacBook Air began incorporating reclaimed aluminum in its design in 2018. Google has an excellent shot at competing with Apple’s hardware on their own turf, and one of the ways they can do that is by making more of its products out of post-consumer materials. Both companies now claim to run on “100% renewable energy,” even if their total carbon footprints remain a different story and indicate a different set of challenges.
But one question we haven’t answered is what exactly it means for a product to be “carbon-neutral” and why it’s good for the consumer and the planet.
One move Google made already to “balance the scales” and reduce the carbon footprint of its hardware division was to switch from shipping by air to shipping by sea. Doing this brought down the per-unit “price” of each product, in terms of its “carbon cost,” by 40%. This is part of Google’s initiative to implement what they call an “internal carbon fee.”
So what do scientists say about going “carbon-neutral”?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a science-driven initiative that believes the major governments on earth must achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050 in order to prevent the worst effects of global climate change. That includes scientists’ warning that the global temperature change must not exceed 1.5°C if we want a chance of reversing trends already in progress.
That’s a heavy burden on the individual consumer. And how does a person vote with their wallet if we’ve had to choose for so long between affordability and saving the planet?
Some pundits and news organizations want to dwell on the price tag of making America and other developed economies fully carbon-neutral. One estimate puts the price tag at $1 trillion per year. And maybe that sounds scary, but companies like Google can help lead by example and bring down the cost for others.
Demand From the Bottom, Change From the Top
There’s a chance that only companies with Google’s clout will be able to “make the cut” and find a cost-effective way to pivot to recycled materials and carbon-neutral back-office, R&D, and manufacturing operations. It may be the Googles, Apples, and Samsungs of the world that can absorb the costs of greening their own supply chains and, therefore, greening everybody else’s.
At least at first. There was a time when small businesses didn’t have the tools or know-how to measure their greenhouse gas emissions or source raw materials from eco-friendly vendors. Standards organizations like ISO also publish details on voluntary and mandatory guidelines for certifying the carbon footprint of a product or a whole product portfolio. And companies that want to put their focus elsewhere can buy carbon offsets to remain in good compliance or good conscience.
In any event, the news of this carbon commitment from Google is a reassuring sign that some of the biggest companies in the world are willing to make changes in the name of halting climate change. Some of those changes, like sourcing new materials and changing to new shipping methods, might be difficult to weather at first. One thing that’s not in question is the demand for companies and products that take climate stewardship seriously.
This post was written by Caleb Danziger, co-owner and editor of thebytebeat.com.