Sustainability

Cutting the crap: 8 things you may not know that Google is doing to reduce waste

Humankind is using up natural resources at an astonishing rate. Each year, our economy consumes far more than what the planet can naturally provide. Recent data shows that in 2015, society’s demand for resources will be equivalent to 1.5 Earths -- clearly not a sustainable path.

Our everyday actions can help shrink this oversize footprint -- through things like traveling more efficiently or using cleaner energy -- and we’ve built many tools to help make it easier. But companies should lead by example. That belief has propelled us to become the world’s biggest corporate purchaser of renewable power, a fully carbon-neutral company, and more

But we won’t stop there. Today we’re excited to launch a new partnership, with the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose mission is to accelerate the transition to a regenerative “circular economy” -- an economy that eradicates waste through smart design. 

In a traditional “linear” economy, waste is rampant: finite natural resources are taken from the Earth, made into products, and ultimately disposed. A circular economy creates a more lasting, closed-loop system: it reduces the use of finite resources, and focuses on ways to continuously cycle materials back into the economy -- like renewable energy resources and highly reusable materials. As the Foundation explains in the video below, the circular approach can offer big advantages for both the planet and the financial bottom line.

Fortunately, we’re not starting at square one. Our current waste reduction efforts span many areas of our business -- and demonstrate at what circular economy principles can look like in practice. Here are several ways Google has already begun to “cut the crap”:

Cutting energy waste
  • Over the last five years, we’ve improved our data center operations and hardware to get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of electricity.

  • Turning waste into energy! At our main campus, we pipe in landfill gas from a local landfill to supply a portion of our electric and heating needs.

Cutting materials waste
  • Since 2007, we've repurposed enough outdated servers to avoid buying over 300,000 new replacement machines.

  • As we’ve designed and constructed new buildings in the last year, our recycling of demolition waste and onsite materials kept more than 10,000 tons of material out of landfills.    

Cutting food waste
  • In addition to our large-scale composting program, we use a software system in our kitchens to track pre-consumer food waste (expired items, trimmings, etc.). At our Bay Area campuses alone, this system has prevented more than 170,000 pounds of food going into the waste stream over the past year.

  • A growing number of our kitchens serve baked goods and other foods made with Coffee Flour, a flour derived from traditionally discarded parts of a coffee plant.


Cutting water waste
  • At our Atlanta data center, our reuse water system enables us to use recycled wastewater from a local sewage treatment plant for our cooling needs.

  • At our main campus, we invest in drought-resistant landscaping and irrigate with recycled water whenever possible. We’re on track for a 30 percent reduction in campus water use by the end of this year compared to 2013.

Our partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will help us take our waste reduction and sustainability programs to the next level. Over the coming months, we’ll be working with the Foundation to explore and shape a series of initiatives to embed circular economic principles into the fabric of Google’s infrastructure, operations, and culture. Circle back with us in the coming year to hear more about where these projects take us and how they’ll support our ongoing commitment to the planet.