Google wants to go all out on a circular economy

Known for its planet-friendly incentives, Google seems ready to take another step towards sustainability. Having just adopted its first circular economy strategy ever, the tech giant says it wants to spearhead the way the IT sector deals with materials and waste.

Google has been among the first supporters of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a key global advocate of the circular economy approach. The company’s new vision is creating “a circular Google in a sustainable world” in line with the Foundation’s recommendations.

The strategy follows the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s modus operandi by aiming to “disrupt the waste economy” with a focus relevant for a tech company: data centers, workplaces, electronics and more. In each of these areas Google will aim to reduce waste and pollution, prolong the use of materials and make sure they are as safe and green as possible.

Google says it also hopes to build citizen awareness, using its products and services to increase access to information and empower its users to live more sustainable lifestyles. It plans to make circularity a mass phenomena by introducing it into all its processes, while also using its influence on consumer purchasing power to bring circular products to every home.

All that sounds great on the surface. Yet Google will face several challenges other sustainability tech leaders struggle to handle, with Apple’s CEO Tim Cook having recently acknowledged that prolonging the lifecycle of its products would impinge on the company’s profits.

Although Google’s new strategy talks up maximizing reuse and global waste issues, it avoids addressing Google’s own harmful impacts on the planet. We hear about 2.1 million units resold for secondary use and 18% of new servers being remanufactured from old ones, but we don’t hear anything about its actual material footprint.

Similarly, we are told of a 78% waste diversion rate from its offices, but not much about the total amount of waste Google produces. And while it is common for companies to emphasize their achievements, Google could set an example by disclosing a more complete and truthful picture of its actual impacts on the planet, especially considering a truly wide sustainability terrain the company strives to cover.

That said, Google’s pledges are surely more than mere PR. With concrete goals and targets its new strategy can do a lot of good. Once we see more large corporations promoting sustainability, we might get one step closer to preserving a habitable Earth.

Flow of resources through Google consumer electronics and supply chain. Source: Google
Flow of resources through Google consumer electronics and supply chain. (Source: Google)




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