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Google Goes Carbon Neutral


Google Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutrality is a formidable goal for any company, especially since most companies are in the process of selling manufactured goods.  It makes sense then that a non-traditional company based on selling information would take the lead in the corporate fight of global warming.  This company is of course Google and as of last Wednesday is carbon neutral.  This is of course according to Google themselves.  Let's then take a closer look on the process and results of Google's effort to usher in an era of corporate environmental responsibility.

On June 19, 2007 Google posted on their corporate blog a goal of becoming carbon neutral by the end of that year.

"Climate change continues to be one of the biggest, most challenging problems our planet faces, and we know that a sustained global effort is needed if we're going to have any hope of reversing its effects. In that spirit, today we're announcing that Google will become carbon neutral by the end of 2007. This is an important step in our long-term pursuit of holistic environmental solutions."

Nearly two years on that lofty goal has been reached, according to Google's Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl. " To honor this commitment, we calculated our global carbon footprint, purchased high-quality carbon offsets, and worked with a third party to certify our calculations and validate our offset portfolio. Through this process, we've neutralized all of Google's 2007 emissions, as well as part of our 2008 emissions."  This statement seems amazing but must be verified.

In an effort to do this, Candace Lombardi of CNET wrote an interesting article regarding the topic.  To paraphrase, it is not that clear.  There is no verifiable standard for defining carbon neutrality currently.  Their is no federal or international agency to monitor a company's claim nor a NGO that specifically verifies provided data.

Green Google Money

Then what are we left with as individuals concerned about the environment but not possessing of the resources to look into claims about "greening" companies?  Well there seems to be two options and neither are perfect.  First, we must trust the third party certification eluded to by Google's Wehil.  The third party in this case is the Environmental Resource Trust (ERT).  ERT, a business unit of Winrock International, is a leader in the field of environmental markets.  Winrock International is a non-profit organization that works with people in the United States and around the world to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity, and sustain natural resources.  This group verifies that all statements made by Google were true, but since the company is hired by Google some conflict of interest must always exist (even though Google will say there is none).

Second, we may find generalized statements regarding whether a company is actively changing their environmental impact.  Climate counts, a nonprofit watch group funded by yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm that keeps track of the environmental scores of companies, released a list on tech and software companies' green achievements.  Google ranked in the highest portion, but it is still unclear whether they actually achieved their goals of carbon neutrality.

In the end, this statement of carbon neutrality is really unverifiable by outside observers.  We must rely on a hired NGO for certification, but does it matter.  It is clear that Google is working toward reducing their impact on the climate and world.  These steps are positive.  Until their really is a national or international standards for carbon neutrality these discussions are meaningless because the words have no specific definition.