What began as a research project for two Stanford Phd students in 1996 has now spread to every continent and practically every personal computer in the world. In less than two decades, Google has changed the way we use the worldwide web. But the search engine and technology company doesn’t want to stop at your computer or smart phone: it wants to change the way the world is powered.
Google stops short of bold proclamations about a grand vision for its sustainability strategy. After all, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page co-own a Boeing 767, nicknamed Google One, and together with executive chairman Eric Schmidt they are reported to share a fleet of eight private jets with special landing rights at NASA’s mothballed Moffat Field. The company has also drawn intense criticism for fundraising for climate deniers in Congress.
But on one critical metric at least Google is leagues ahead – greening the energy it uses to power its way to billion-dollar revenues.
“When Google thinks about sustainability, one of the big areas that we think about is energy because that’s fundamentally a core piece of what drives our company,” says Rick Needham, director of energy & sustainability.
“We think what can we do as a company to make sure we’re operating sustainably and the ways we can enable a more sustainable world. We ask what can we do to get us to a place where clean energy is an option for everyone.
“It’s something that Larry [Page] pushes us to do – ’10x’ things, not just incremental things. Google is a company where you can actually change the world.”
More than any other tech company, or even corporation, Google has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to renewable energy. In three short years, Google has made more than $1bn worth of direct investments in renewable energy. Starting in April 2010, Google invested $38.8m in two wind farms in North Dakota, followed a couple of months later with a contract to buy power from a 114MW wind farm in Iowa. To date, Google has signed agreements to procure more than 260MW of wind power for its data centres.
Meanwhile, a 1.7MW solar installation at its Mountain View campus, 40 miles south of San Francisco, generates enough electricity to power 30% of the buildings underneath it and should pay for itself by the end of this year.
Overall, 33% of the energy to power its operations now comes from renewable sources. But that’s just the start, says Needham.
“We want to be 100% renewable,” he says. “We don’t have a date set for that target, but with our investments, we aim to move the market in that direction.”