Google recently published its environmental report, which reveals significant energy savings in its operation, helping its users to operate in a more environmentally friendly way and investments in sustainable ventures. Is the picture really so optimistic?
It was recently announced that the market value of Google's parent company, Alphabet, was estimated in 2023 bNo less than 1.3 trillion dollars. But behind the big money of giant technological corporations like Google is also hidden a significant environmental impact: they and their servers consume a lot of energy, the amount of waste they produce is enormous and their activity encourages significant consumption.
This influence leads many of the corporations to adopt an environmental side for themselves. Thus, recently Google published the דו״ח הסביבה its for 2023, which presents the progress of the technology giant towards the achievement of its sustainability goals: if it is within the framework of its current operations, in the development of products and technologies that help a more sustainable life, in investing in renewable energies and in reducing the company's greenhouse gases. But can we trust the report's encouraging findings?
Google, tell me more about environmental savings
According to the report, Google's core products (such as Google Maps, google travel, Google flights and more) have helped more than a billion users in the world to make more sustainable choices. The report also states that between 2022-2011, approximately 113 billion kilowatts of energy were saved (double the power of Portugal's annual electricity consumption) by customers who used in thermostats The Wise של Google (a smart gadget that maintains the temperature of the home), which the company supported and invested in more than 400 start-ups engaged in sustainable development, saved over a million cubic meters of water in the activities of its offices and server farms (equivalent to more than 400 swimming pools Olympics) and invested a lot of money in the establishment Renewable energy projects.
One of the features that Google is proud of as part of the report is part of "Google Maps": in 2021 the company launched the option of environmentally friendly routing in the popular application (not yet implemented in Israel), which helps users reach their destinations as quickly as possible while minimizing carbon emissions. According to the company's estimates, the new move helped prevent more than 1.2 million tons of carbon emissions between October and December 2022 - equivalent to taking about 250 fuel-based cars off the road for a year.
"The environmental damage of the technology companies is usually low compared to the other large companies", explains Dr. Daniel Mader, a researcher and scientific consultant and one of the founders of the SP Interface company. "Unlike companies that rent resources from the environment or produce large and many physical products, the harm of the technology companies is mainly directed towards the use of electricity - which can be made low in carbon emissions and air pollution and whose use can be made more efficient. Also, technology companies can develop products that improve, optimize and save the use of resources." However, there are of course technology companies that also produce technological products with significant effects on the environment, such as smartphones, computers and cars.
According to him, a significant part of Google's environmental impact lies in its enormous size. "Major technology companies such as Google, Meta, Apple, Tesla, etc. have a great influence on many consumers - therefore any change for the better with them adds up to an extensive influence, crossing sectors and countries."
Google has a significant interest in being a leader in the field of environment and sustainability, and since its establishment it has positioned itself as a company with a positive image in the environmental context. "Environmental investment strengthens companies like Google and turns them into 'positive' companies," explains Dr. Rami Kaplan, a researcher of global climate politics from the School of Social and Policy Studies at Tel Aviv University. "Google wants to endear itself to the global public, who are its customers - and also to the regulators, in order to keep fire and problems away from itself. It should be remembered that Google's revenue comes from the fact that it has the ability to use a lot of information about its users for marketing purposes."
Kaplan emphasizes that Google's claims about its approach to the environment are well founded. "Compared to other companies in the world, Google invests a lot of money and resources to make itself 'green' to a certain extent," he says. "There is a real investment here and an attempt to make the company environmentally friendly."
However, he urges not to be blinded by the findings of the new report. "At first glance the report looks great - but when you look at the fine print or what is not in it, you find that it is very vague," Kaplan explains. "It is also interspersed with public relations language with the aim of creating a positive impression by manipulative use of information."
It should be noted that in most countries in the world, technology corporations are not at all obliged to publish reports on environmental and sustainability issues - this is in contrast to financial reports, for example. Still, most corporations and large companies choose on their own initiative to publish them. However, in contrast to supervised reports, in most cases the companies decide on their own the goals for reducing emissions, the rate at which the goals will be achieved, the way to achieve them and also the manner of reporting.
"The fact that these reports are voluntary allows companies to do PR trickKaplan says. "Google is a member of a number of global business organizations that push the agenda according to which it is better for corporations to carry out independent reform in the field of sustainability instead of having oversight from the state - which allows freedom of action and the ability to decide what to report on and what will be written in the reports. If the process was supervised by a state or by some international body, there would probably be strict and significant criteria that require reporting - but this is not the case.'
Kaplan cites as an example the figure provided by Google on the success of its maps application. "This is a speculative figure, because it requires us to believe the company's own numbers," he says. "It is impossible to know how they arrived at the figure of the amount of emissions saved through this feature. It is possible, for example, that they have a very optimistic formula, which allows them to reach such numbers. Either way, he is not a reliable figure.'
"A significant part of Google's business model is built on advertising and promoting consumer products, flights, and more - which are very harmful to the environment," Madar adds. "The ease with which new technologies allow us to purchase products or services greatly increases their use and increases the damage to the environment."
"We must not trust the big corporations," says Kaplan. "Their goal as a collective is to prevent economic harm to them - that is, if there is a reduction in emissions, it will be done without harming the profit engines of the corporations. They will look for ways to increase profits and at the same time bring about a change for the better in the environmental field - and this may prevent a significant change in the environmental impact," he concludes.
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