Is Google greenwashing with its vows to make sustainability a centerpiece of its hardware business?
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Is Google greenwashing with its vows to make sustainability a centerpiece of its hardware business?

Is Google greenwashing with its vows to make sustainability a centerpiece of its hardware business?

Google Sustainability

In a recent blog post, Anna Meegan, Google’s Head of Sustainability, discussed some challenges related to the company’s hardware initiatives. She’s right: these days, people can’t live without their phones and other electronic devices. This phenomenon comes from the intense competition from giants, including Apple and Samsung (and more recently, Google), to make customer experiences better.

But the production of consumer electronics comes with environmental ramifications, including e-waste and carbon emissions. Google is unquestionably a part of those ramifications.

Just last week, Google continued its promise to make sustainability a centerpiece of its hardware business. But what exactly does the promise entail?

Committing to Recycling When It Comes to Hardware. Sort Of…

In an effort to create products for consumers that have the highest utility while being conscious of the environment, Google has announced: “100% of Made by Google products launching in 2022 and every year after will include recycled materials.”

Though this seems like a commitment to recycling, the way the claim is phrased is somewhat ambiguous. It begs the question, “Sure, your products may include recycled materials, but just how much of every product is going to come from recycled materials?”

Until Google can show the extent of its recycling efforts, the promise to do so is somewhat unfounded.

Carbon Neutrality for Device Orders

Previously, Quartz uncovered just how much carbon Google is emitting, particularly through its ubiquitous search engine. So, it makes sense that Google is doubling down on emissions reduction efforts.

More specifically, Google has made a somewhat big promise to have “100% of device orders shipping to and from Google customers will be carbon neutral by 2020.” There’s less than a year and a half for Google to reach that target. Hence, it will be pivotal for consumers to hold Google accountable for its claims.

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More on emissions, every step of the supply chain typically contributes to emissions. Google’s blog briefly talks about the “highest ethical standards” that its supply chain embodies, but at the time of this article’s first publication (August 10th, 2019), it makes no mention to emissions, which is something that companies like Starbucks have heavily looked at.

“Putting People First”

In Meegan’s blog post, she references Google’s commitment to “make technology that puts people first.” To make this happen, the company has two main initiatives.

  1. The company will publish environmental reports for all of its flagship products released in and after 2020.
  2. Google will install “one million energy and money saving thermostats in homes that need them most” by 2023.

What will be included in the “environmental reports” is uncertain. But certainly, consumers will soon learn something new about the environmental ramifications associated with Google’s hardware.

The Decision is Yours

Google’s initiatives sound ambitious and they could be potentially very good for the environment. They could also lead the way for other hardware businesses, specifically consumer electronics companies, to follow suit. On the other hand, Google could be greenwashing to look like a more sustainable company. What do you think?

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