Google targets carbon-neutral hardware deliveries

Tech giant Google has unveiled a new string of sustainability pledges for its hardware, including a commitment to make all customer shipments carbon-neutral by 2020.

The commitment covers all shipments to and from customers, for whole devices as well as replacement parts and accessories. Image: Alphabet Inc. 

The commitment covers all shipments to and from customers, for whole devices as well as replacement parts and accessories. Image: Alphabet Inc. 

 

The commitment will see Google re-develop internal planning systems to ensure goods such as phones, tablets and speakers are sent locally, and invest in ground logistics teams using electric vehicles (EVs), while paying to offset any residual emissions from shipping.

Google has notably recorded a 40% year-on-year reduction in its carbon emissions for product shipments to and from customers between 2017 and 2018, putting it in a position to make offsetting financially viable. The extra cost of the carbon-neutral shipping will not be passed on to customers.

The company has also pledged to ensure that all ‘Made By Google’ products will include some proportion of recycled materials by 2022. Google already uses post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic across its range of Nest thermostats, with the new pledge set to boost its use of the material, as well as recycled metals.

“My job is to integrate sustainability into our products, operations and communities—making it not just an aspect of how we do business, but the centrepiece of it,” Google’s head of sustainability for consumer hardware, Anna Meegan, said.

“It’s an ongoing endeavour that involves designing in sustainability from the start and embedding it into the entire product development process and across our operations, all while creating the products our customers want.”

Tech transparency  

Google has been making consumer hardware since 2016, with its most popular lines including Pixel phones and Google Home Mini smart speakers.

In a bid to be more transparent about the environmental impact of these products, the company began publishing product-specific sustainability reports in 2018, including information around the raw materials, manufacturing process and logistics chain.

Google also offers customers and other stakeholders the chance to view the typical conditions that its supply chain staff are working in through a virtual reality (VR) experience called “Made By Me”. Using a smartphone and a VR headset, customers take an audio-visual 360-degree tour of Google’s Flex supplier factory in Zhuhai, China, and the Nyamurhale gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Similar moves across the areas of transparency, circular economy and low-carbon shipments are also being made by other big-name tech brands.

Apple, for example, has pledged to manufacture new closed-loop products by using only renewable resources or recycled materials that negate the need to mine materials, starting with tin and aluminium. Early signs of progress can be seen through the company’s new MacBook Air, which is made from a custom alloy made from 100% recycled aluminium. Apple is planning to open a dedicated material recovery lab this year.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is aiming to reduce its absolute carbon emissions by 75% by 2030. Measures designed to assist with this aim include an increased internal carbon fee, advocating for stricter environmental policies through membership to the Climate Leadership Council and developing artificial intelligence (AI) products and services for uses across the low-carbon sector. 

Sarah George



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