Case study: Alphabet
Companies the size of Google can have a similar impact on the environment as a country. For that reason, when Alphabet, Google’s parent company, became the first major company to become carbon neutral in 200729it became an example to many.
It was the first global enterprise to match its energy use with 100% renewable energy in 201729. It also operates the cleanest cloud in the industry and is the world’s largest purchaser of renewable energy29. It’s important to recognise that there is no perfect company, however, Alphabet’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral is admirable.
Last year, the company eliminated its entire carbon legacy –bringing its lifetime net carbon footprint to zero29. It has become the first major company to commit to being carbon-free, everywhere, all of the time, by 203030.
This is incredibly challenging as the wind does not always blow, nor the sun always shine. However, the company aims to achieve this by investing in technologies, such as battery storage and artificial intelligence (AI). This means that every Gmail, YouTube video, Google search and Google Maps route will be supplied by clean energy. The investment will help create 12,000 jobs by 202529, and accelerate the global transition to clean energy.
How is Alphabet addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?
- Reducing energy use through AI: data centres use roughly 1% of global electricity31. However, while the amount of computing handled by data centres increased by about 550%, between 2010 and 2018, the amount of energy consumed remained almost flat32.
- This efficiency has been partly driven by AI. In collaboration with DeepMind, part of the Google Brain division, Alphabet has used AI to better manage the cooling of it's data centres, reducing energy usage by 30%33. In the US alone, 12% of all electricity is used for heating and cooling commercial buildings34. Alphabet is making this AI technology available for use by airports, shopping malls, hospitals and other commercial and industrial facilities. This is part of Alphabet’s aim to reduce global carbon emissions by one gigaton by 2030 – the equivalent of Japan’s annual emissions29.
- Smart products: Alphabet’s Nest Learning Thermostat saves each home an average of 10% to 12% of energy on heating.
- Innovation in travel: Google Maps is used widely to find bike-shares and EV charging stations, as well as for optimising routes. Google Flights now allows users to find the least carbon-intensive flights35.
- Storing renewable energy: While renewable energy is bountiful, it’s not always available when needed. Google X, the company’s Moonshot Factory, recently spun-off a company called Malta which is looking at ways to store excess renewable energy in molten salt. The company’s being backed by Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, Bill Gates and more. It hopes to create low-cost, long-duration energy storage to add stability and resilience to global energy grids.
- Geothermal energy for home use: US buildings account for 39% of carbon emissions in the country, with most emissions coming from heating and cooling homes with fossil fuels36. Dandelion, a company which also recently graduated from the Moonshot Factory, has developed an easy and affordable way to heat and cool homes with clean, free, and abundant geothermal energy. A low-cost, easy-to-install slender drill is used to dig a hole a few inches wide to install ground loops in a few hours with minimal impact to a garden. Given traditional methods have typically required a large up-front installation fee which has discouraged consumers, this could be an important innovation.