Source : Google

Can Google do what Governments can’t

From Move Fast to Slow Down and Break Things, one foot(print) at a time

On 4th of October, Google announced their latest initiatives to become more sustainable but it did not introduce any radical changes to the way they power its Brain, Data Centers. Instead the updates were related to four of the widely used Google Products; Search, Maps, Travel and Nest Devices.

Search, will start showing climate related information such as Carbon Foot Print, alongside your search for a “new TV”. So along with the price comparisons, you will also be able to understand the details such as energy consumption, and other related information to take a decision for the better.

Arguably this widely used Google product which has almost become a supplementary brain on-demand for the humans to make decisions, for better or worse. Therefore the impact some simple information will be enough to make consumers think twice, or slowly, before making a decision. In fact given the familiarity and frequent usage of Google Search, this routinely check on the climate related data will almost become habitual, leading to positive behavioral changes.

What will be equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road in a year, adding a simple route change to Google Maps. Fastest Route is good, but it can be better. With Eco-friendly routing you will be able to see, as the name suggest, a fuel efficient route along with the usual fastest route. This will help you to take a different path to your destination, which may not always be the fastest, but it may well have some different scenery to enjoy in addition to the benefit for your pocket!

However you will have the option to choose the fastest route by default, but Two options is always better than one choice right?

In addition to finding Eco-certified hotels, you will also be able to see and compare the carbon emission estimate for the flights you see on Travel results. To make you decision even easier (or difficult depending on your stance on sustainability), flights with the lowest emission will be highlighted with a green badge, with the option to sort by emissions as well. If you want the numbers, a green itinerary can help to cut up to 63% of the CO2 emission of a route, as per a recent research.

Sites such as Skyscanner has already added this feature to their service and over a year, around 10mn passengers have selected the “greenest” option. Furthermore Google, Skycanner, are some of the companies in the Travelyst, an industry coalition that aims to create a wider movement around sustainable travel.

Along with the software features, Google is also adding energy conscious option to their hardware products, starting with Nest, company’s brand of smart thermostats. This new feature, called Energy Shift, will automatically manage the cooling and heating electricity usage to give priority to times when more energy from renewable sources is available on the grids. Overall these updates aims to reduce the constraint on energy grids, and follows a strategy that has a potential as per experts.

One (Big) company’s policy, Government Gold

It is true that corporations and governments do contribute to the climate change more than the individuals. And reports such as UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has further emphasized the necessity for structural changes, with a long-term vision. With around 25 companies and state-owned firms accounting for more than half of the emission since 1988, impact of individuals seems to be inferior. However we (the people) still has two ways to contribute the betterment of the planet, with simple tweaks to our choices and preferences, supported by nudges like this from Google.

  1. Changing the way we consume, and find information, will actively lead for efficient and better outcomes, after accounting for the climate impacts. Furthermore these small features can lead to more significant and sustainable behavior changes. As discussed by Dr. BJ Fogg, three factors are needed to form a habit which are, Motivation (to do better for the environment / planet), Ability (to take eco-conscious decisions) and Prompt (new feature updates / nudges) . New features by Google are connected to all three factors, creating the environment to change consumer behavior, in a mass scale, for good.
  2. The choices consumers make and its direct and indirect results on products and services, will be highly visible through number of indicators such as reduced sales and traffic to websites. This in turn can create an urgency and competition among the corporates to adopt environmental friendly measures throughout their value chains. It is true that the Governments around the world have taken number of actions to “push” the companies towards the Sustainable path. But the “pull” from the consumers will be more powerful and may even amplify the effectiveness of government policies.

Therefore sometimes we may need to look at the broader impact of small changes, without blindly complaining for the source of the change.

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

― Richard Buckminster Fuller

Originally published at




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Ashen Hirantha

Ashen Hirantha

An Economic Undergraduate that is curious about everything else

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Framework with four quadrants: The first is about improving services and products, the second is about creating new products & services, the third is about increasing the organisations capacity to oprate more sustainably, the last is about changing the business model and the way the organisation operates.