20 million tons of carbon emissions in 2014, Google is caught in a carbon neutral “mystery”
Google emits carbon dioxide while claiming to be carbon neutral. It turns out that Google is carbon neutral by purchasing renewable energy to offset the carbon it is consuming and the carbon left over from the past. However, sustainability experts point out that true carbon neutrality is carbon removal, not carbon offsetting. So, how can we achieve true carbon neutrality?Around this topic, foreign media Dezeen conducted a comprehensive and in-depth interpretation.
Although Google has claimed to be carbon neutral, it continues to emit greenhouse gases.
According to the tech giant, the company has been carbon neutral since 2007 and claims to have eliminated all carbon emissions; however, the truth is: the company has emitted about 20 million tons of carbon during that time.
However, Google says it meets the definition of carbon neutrality — a definition that allows Google to claim that its carbon footprint is zero, while still being a consistent emitter of atmospheric carbon.
What is the reason behind this?
Carbon neutrality, still allowing emissions?
“Our legacy in carbon emissions dates back to 2007, when we were the first major company to become carbon neutral, and we were only nine years old.” Luo, Google Real Estate and Workplace Services Sustainability Program Leader Robin Bass said.
“We are carbon neutral by purchasing renewable energy to offset the carbon we are consuming and the carbon left over from the past. It is also part of our strategy.”
‘Dragonscale’ solar panels on Google’s Mountain View building
However, Bass acknowledged that the approach means the company will continue to emit carbon dioxide, and its offset program does not compensate for its emissions by removing carbon from the atmosphere.
“Carbon neutrality still allows carbon emissions,” she told Dezeen. “People use a lot of different terms, and different terms have different meanings.”
“I think carbon neutrality still allows you to emit,” she continued. “You can still produce carbon, and you can still connect to the grid that burns coal or fossil fuels.”
“As long as you offset it by buying renewable energy somewhere, it’s still carbon neutral.”
Carbon offsetting is a ‘fallacy’
Google’s position is consistent with the international PAS 2060 carbon neutrality standard; so this does allow Google to claim to be carbon neutral if it uses offsets or carbon credits.
However, preventing additional carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, through measures such as purchasing renewable energy or capturing carbon dioxide emitted by factories, does not offset the emissions already produced.
Robin Bass, Sustainability Program Lead, Google Real Estate and Workplace Services
Unlike net-zero, carbon neutrality allows businesses to continue emitting more carbon dioxide than they remove from the atmosphere. “Net zero” is a more demanding standard that has become the benchmark for global decarbonization.
Carbon offsets are becoming increasingly controversial. “I call it the offset fallacy,” sustainability expert William McDonough said in an interview last month.
“If someone says, I have so much renewable energy, I’m going to offset my carbon emissions, then you have to be very careful,” said William McDonald. “Logically, if you double your renewable energy, you can double your carbon emissions and still end up with net zero emissions.”
“It just doesn’t make sense because the atmosphere absorbs twice as much carbon as the Earth. Renewable energy doesn’t equal carbon elimination.”
True net zero ‘needs to eliminate carbon’
Taylor Francis of the decarbonization platform Watershed said this week that net-zero emissions can only be achieved by removing carbon from the atmosphere.
He said: “We strongly advocate that true net zero requires carbon removal, that is, removing carbon from the atmosphere, rather than traditional carbon offsets, which are paying other people to keep their carbon emissions from being released. into the atmosphere.
Google said it became carbon neutral in 2007. In September 2020, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company had eliminated the legacy of carbon emissions from its founding in 1998.
“Starting today, we have eliminated all of Google’s carbon emissions (including all of our operational emissions prior to becoming carbon neutral in 2007) by purchasing high-quality carbon offsets. This means Google’s carbon emissions for the entire lifetime of It’s zero now,” Pichai said in his speech.
Offsets keep emissions ‘lower than they would have been’
However, a Google Carbon white paper on carbon offsets further explains that these measures simply bring emissions “below what they would have been”, not zero.
The white paper states: “At Google, we reduce our carbon footprint by improving efficiency, generating on-site electricity, and purchasing green electricity.
“To reduce our legacy carbon footprint to zero, we purchase carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are investments in activities that reduce carbon emissions. The reduction in carbon emissions is reflected in carbon credits.”
“Carbon credits are usually verified by a third party, which means that greenhouse gas emissions are lower than if no one invested in carbon offsets.”
Google’s carbon offset
The carbon offset methods used by Google include capturing methane from landfills and agricultural fields, where methane is “captured, used or burned”; at the same time, Google also works with forestry that “protects forests from destruction and degradation or strengthens and develops new forests” Project cooperation.
Since 2007, Google has “worked with more than 40 carbon offset projects, offsetting more than 20 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions,” the white paper states.
That means Google emitted the same amount of carbon dioxide—20 million tons—in the same period.
Robin Bass, Sustainability Program Lead for Google Real Estate and Workplace Services, works on the sustainability aspects of new Google buildings, including the emerging campus in Mountain View, California, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group and Thomas Heatherwick.
“We have a strategy of looking for low-carbon options and innovating (building materials) with manufacturers,” she said, adding that in terms of reducing the carbon content of Google’s buildings, “we are definitely tracking all of that.”
“We’ve looked at the best-case scenario for a lot of wood. We’re still going to be using concrete and steel, so we’re driving innovation in both materials, which have a very large carbon footprint. There’s a lot of exciting technology coming out of these products. “
Mountain View building tops with ‘dragon scale’ solar panels
The massive Mountain View building will generate some of its electricity from “dragon scale” solar panels on the roof, while geothermal piles will help heat and cool the building.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai discussed the project in another keynote in May, when he said the project was part of Google’s “MoonShot” goal of “achieving a “moon shot” by 2030. 24/7 carbon-free energy”.
When completed, the buildings will have the first dragonscale solar enclosures, equipped with 90,000 silver-colored solar panels, capable of generating nearly 7 megawatts, he said.
They will house the largest system of geothermal piles in North America, heating the building in the winter and cooling it in the summer, and it will be awesome to see this come to life. “
However, Bass could not say what percentage of the electricity the building’s solar and geothermal systems will generate.
To meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and keep global warming below 1.5°C of pre-Industrial levels, the global economy needs to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Google’s new goals
Last month, Google signed on to the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign, which helps companies align their strategies with the Paris goals and achieve net-zero emissions.
“Net zero” refers to eliminating Scope 3 emissions, which are emissions from a company’s supply chain, embodied carbon emissions from building new buildings, and emissions from customers’ use of a company’s products—all three of which are the most difficult to eliminate emission.
“We will develop a science-based plan to reduce Scope 3 emissions by more than 50% later this year, in line with the guidelines of the UN’s Race to Zero and Index Roadmap Initiative,” Google said.
The UN’s Race to Zero campaign defines “net zero” as:
There is no direct or indirect addition of carbon to the atmosphere throughout the life cycle, including emissions from materials used in projects and customer use of products, services or buildings.
“There is always more work to be done”
Where emissions cannot be eliminated, carbon removal programs that capture carbon directly from the atmosphere can be used to offset carbon emissions, such as through biomass or direct air capture technologies.
Carbon offsets that reduce or delay carbon emissions don’t count, making Google’s offsets incompatible with the Race to Zero program.
“There’s a lot of complexity in what is carbon neutral or carbon-free,” Bass said. “As a company, we are addressing this across all of our product areas, and certainly across our portfolio of real estate and workplace services.”
She added: “We offset all our electricity consumption every year and have achieved this since 2017.
“Our really big goal is to work with local grids through things like Dragonscale solar and geothermal and help them transition to a cleaner energy supply so all of our buildings can be connected to a clean grid.”
“There is always more work to be done,” she added. “If someone claims they are 100 percent carbon-free, red flags should be everywhere.”
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