Google was at the leading edge of large technology companies seeking to go completely carbon neutral, having declared that status in 2007, and subsequently matching all of its global electricity consumption with renewable energy. Now the company says that it is breaking new ground by becoming the first major company to effectively eliminate its entire carbon footprint — going back to its founding — something it has achieved through purchase of “high-quality carbon offsets” as of today. Further, it’s also setting a goal of employing only carbon-free sources by 2030.
The first achievement — eliminating its overall carbon footprint — is relatively easily achieved simply by spending a lot of cash. Google didn’t share exactly how much it had purchased in carbon offsets, but the idea behind those is that you could buy support of projects including renewable energy or energy efficiency initiatives or projects to offset your own impact. Google should be more or less aware of the impact of its operations from its founding until it became a carbon-neutral operation in 2007, and hopefully its claim that it has purchased high-quality offsets means that a lot of meaningful projects got a sound investment to eliminate whatever that figure was.
Meanwhile, Google is taking on the much more challenging task of moving toward running its entire business on carbon-free energy sources everywhere it operates, 100% of the time. That means offices, campuses and data centres everywhere, for all of its products across Gmail, Search, YouTube and Maps. While Google already claims operations that match their total energy usage with 100% renewable use, that’s not actually through direct use of carbon-free sources. Instead, as is typical for companies seeking greener operations but with large and distributed physical footprints, Google purchases renewable energy elsewhere to offset the use of non-renewable power in places where there are no directly accessible sources available.
To commit to directly using only carbon-free energy all the time across its entire operations therefore means a huge undertaking, which will require the actual development of new clean-energy sources. Google also says it’ll be helping to bring 5 GW of new carbon-free energy sources online by 2030 across regions where it has physical resources that need access to clean power.
Funding the development of local clean energy sources to power its facilities isn’t new, and most major tech companies with a clean energy agenda pursue it. But Google’s specific target of making all of its power sources carbon-free by 2030 provides a fixed deadline for an unprecedented goal for a company of its size and influence.