Google expands Carbon Emissions Calculator for Gmail, Docs
Google will launch “Carbon Footprint for Google Workspace” in early 2023, according to a Tuesday blog post. The tool is an extension of the company’s previous “Carbon Footprint for Google Cloud” calculator, which debuted Last year. The new widget allows companies using Google Workspace to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions related to their use of products such as Gmail, Meet and Drive. The calculator will take into account both direct emissions from things like Google’s energy consumption and less direct “value chain” emissions.
Every Google Doc, Sheet, Gmail, and Slide you type has to be stored somewhere – a server that runs and calls all those files online via a continuous supply of electricity. Soon, Google will show businesses that depend on its Workspace Suite products the climate impact of their share of these servers.
It’s true, Google will tell its users the harm they are doing to the planet by using… Google’s websites. The tool was announced along with a few other initiatives ahead of the Google Cloud Sustainability Summit. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For companies hyper-focused on getting an accurate picture of their total emissions, the insights can come in handy. But in terms of real and meaningful change, it’s a bit unclear what Google would want companies to do with the results of their Workspace Calculator. Should businesses use less Google Docs? Less Google overall? Is Google saying that its own climate impact is actually everyone else’s climate impact? Maybe if heavy Google users just thought more about the planetary effect of using Google, Google wouldn’t have to hurt the planet so much.
If the idea of a large company releasing an individual carbon emissions estimator for its customers under the guise of sustainability sounds familiar, it’s because BP (formerly British Petroleum) pioneered the idea almost 20 years ago with great success. The original “Carbon Footprint Calculator” was released by BP in 2004. After decades of climate change denial, fossil fuel companies have decided to pivot towards the notion of personal responsibility, diverting environmental attention away from themselves. The plan worked quite well. We are still constantly talking about individual carbon footprints, even though climate change is an issue that cannot be fixed at the individual level.
But I digress. Back to Google. In addition to the Workspace Carbon Calculator, the company also announced a new energy and emissions tracker, as well as new sustainability-focused partnerships. The company also said it would introduce the ability for cloud users to source their server storage from “low carbon places”. Google enterprise customers can choose to tick a box that limits their cloud services to those generated in a select group of locations with more renewable energy than elsewhere.
To be fair, Google has also previously engaged to source energy entirely from carbon-free sources by 2030, which would represent a great challenge for the environment. if done correctly. In the meantime, however, the company falls short of true sustainability in other respects. Executives have publicly declared that Google is now carbon neutral based on offset purchases, which is an unconvincing claim the best. And, despite all the talk of sustainability, Google has continued to fund climate change denial as recently like 2019.
The gray area of Google’s environmental efforts highlights that if we want businesses to be better, they must be held responsible to more than shareholders’ profits.