Google updates Maps, Search, Shopping, Nest for sustainability

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On Wednesday, Google launched a suite of changes to many of its core products to help consumers make sustainable choices more easily.

“Today, climate change is more than a threat,” Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet, said in a prerecorded video during a virtual press event Tuesday. “It is a real and present danger. From wildfires to flooding to more frequent and severe storms, climate change is the most profound risk we face, one that affects our health, our economies and our future together on this planet.”

Google has been a corporate leader in sustainability. It became carbon-neutral in 2007, meaning that it has purchased offsets to balance all carbon-emitting energy sources since then, and has pledged to run on carbon-free energy by 2030.

“That means every question you ask Google, every email you send, every YouTube video you watch will be delivered without emitting any carbon into the air,” Pichai said. “We think of this as a moonshot” — a long-term bet that could have a big impact.

With the suite of product updates, Google hopes to make sustainability the easier choice, Pichai said.

Here are the changes Google is making to its products. Some of these updates are available as of Wednesday and some are still down the road.

Google Maps will default to the most eco-friendly route when the time it takes to make the trip is roughly the same as it would be without taking carbon emissions into account. This product update was announced in March, but it is taking effect in the United States starting Wednesday and in Europe in 2022.

Google Maps calculates fuel usage based on the road incline, traffic congestion and traffic predictions, said Sarah-Jayne Williams, a director for Google Maps.

To make these routing recommendations, Google has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, Williams said at the event Tuesday.

If it will take significantly longer to reach your destination by the more eco-friendly route, then customers will be able to choose between the faster or more sustainable route, Williams said.

“We believe the feature will have the same impact next year as taking over 200,000 cars off the road,” Pichai said.

Also, Google Maps is partnering with companies such as Bird and Donkey Republic to expand bike and scooter share information to 300 cities globally, including Berlin, New York, Sao Paolo and Taipei.

With this update, released Wednesday, you can find nearby bike and scooter share stations and “even pinpoint how many vehicles are available in real time,” Williams said. The update will also show where bike and scooter parking is available.

Google will display the carbon emissions associated with a flight in the search results, said Stephanie Horton, director of marketing for Google Commerce. This feature launches globally Wednesday for nearly every flight.

“We’re putting these numbers in context by labeling flights that have significantly higher emissions and adding a green badge to flights with significantly lower emissions,” Horton said in a prerecorded video Tuesday.

Carbon emissions will take into account the type of aircraft and will be seat-specific, too. Business-class and first-class seats result in more carbon emissions because they take up more space, Horton said. American Airlines and Lufthansa will provide fuel usage data to help Google validate its emissions info, a Google spokesperson said. Flight-search platform Kayak, a unit of Booking Holdings, launched a tool earlier this year that allows travelers to sort flights by emissions. 

Google also aims to help consumers make sustainable choices about where they stay when they travel.

In the last decade, the number of Google searches for “eco-hotel” has doubled, Horton said, so search results for hotels will indicate whether “a hotel has made meaningful commitments to sustainable practices.”

Specifically, hotels will appear in search results with a badge next to their name if they have received third-party certifications from Earth Check or Green Key, she said. This feature was launched Sept. 22.

Google is coordinating with the Travalyst Coalition to create an open model for calculating the carbon emissions of a flight or hotel stay to “bring standardization across the industry,” Horton said….”

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