Saturday, July 13, 2024

Google’s 2024 Environmental Report

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Since our earliest days, we’ve been on an ambitious journey to help build a more sustainable future. An important part of that is sharing what we’ve learned along the way and being transparent about our progress and our challenges. This is especially true given the urgency of the moment — a time when technological advancement is converging with the need for energy transition.

Our annual Environmental Report offers a deep dive into our efforts to harness technology — particularly AI — to drive positive environmental change and operate our business sustainably.

Our approach to enabling AI for sustainability

We know that scaling AI and using it to accelerate climate action is just as crucial as addressing the environmental impact associated with it.

To help minimize our environmental footprint, we’ve built world-leading efficient infrastructure for the AI era, including Trillium, our sixth-generation Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), which is over 67% more energy-efficient than TPU v5e. We’ve also identified tested practices that our research shows can, when used together, reduce the energy required to train an AI model by up to 100 times and reduce associated emissions by up to 1,000 times. All these practices are used at Google today.

We strive to build the world’s most energy-efficient computing infrastructure, supported by responsible water use practices and a commitment to minimizing waste. A Google-owned and -operated data center is, on average, approximately 1.8 times as energy efficient as a typical enterprise data center. In 2023, the average annual power usage effectiveness for our data centers was 1.10 compared with the industry average of 1.58, meaning that our data centers used about 5.8 times less overhead energy for every unit of IT equipment energy.

Last year we introduced a water risk framework to further identify climate-conscious cooling solutions that consider carbon-free energy (CFE) availability, watershed health and future water needs. We see our growing infrastructure as an opportunity to drive the innovations and investments needed to power a low-carbon economy.

AI holds immense promise to drive climate action. In fact, AI has the potential to help mitigate 5–10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. We’re advancing climate action through AI in three key areas:

  • Organizing information: Fuel-efficient routing uses AI to analyze traffic, terrain and a vehicle’s engine to suggest the most efficient route. It’s estimated to have helped enable more than 2.9 million metric tons of GHG emissions reductions since the feature launched in late 2021 to the end of 2023 — that’s equivalent to taking approximately 650,000 fuel-based cars off the road for a year.
  • Improving prediction: We built a breakthrough global hydrological AI model and combined it with publicly available data sources to predict floods up to seven days in advance in over 80 countries. This covers territories where more than 460 million people live, helping these communities prepare for and respond to riverine floods.
  • Better optimization: Green Light is an AI-based tool that helps city traffic engineers optimize the timing of traffic lights to reduce stop-and-go traffic and fuel consumption. This technology has the potential for up to 30% reduction in stops and up to 10% reduction in emissions at intersections.

Through our products, we aim to help individuals, cities and other partners collectively reduce 1 gigaton of carbon equivalent emissions annually by 2030, and we’ll continue to develop technologies that help communities adapt to the effects of climate change.

How we’re driving sustainability across our operations

In 2017, Google became the first major company to match 100% of our annual electricity consumption on a global basis with renewable energy, which we’ve achieved every year since. Building on our first two decades of progress, in 2020 we launched our third decade of climate action — our most ambitious yet.

We have a bold goal to reach net-zero emissions across all of our operations and value chain by 2030, supported by a goal to run on 24/7 CFE on every grid where we operate. In addition, we’re working to advance water stewardship, build a circular economy, and restore and enhance nature and biodiversity. This year’s report shows how we continue to make progress across all of these areas:

  • 10 of our grid regions achieved at least 90% CFE, and even with our total electricity load increasing across our data centers, we maintained a global average of 64% CFE. We also celebrated a first-of-a-kind enhanced geothermal project now delivering CFE to the grid.
  • We signed contracts to purchase approximately four gigawatts of clean energy generation capacity in locations such as Texas, Belgium and Australia — more than in any prior year.
  • We implemented a Google Renewable Energy Addendum that asks our largest hardware manufacturing suppliers, based on spend, to commit to achieving a 100% renewable energy match by 2029.
  • Our water stewardship projects replenished an estimated 1 billion gallons of water, which represents 18% of our 2023 freshwater consumption and tripled our replenishment progress of 6% in 2022.
  • For new Google products launched and manufactured in 2023, our packaging was at least 99% plastic-free. Plus, packaging for our Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro uses 100% plastic-free materials.

Our ongoing work to build a sustainable future

In spite of the progress we are making, we face significant challenges that we’re actively working through. In 2023, our total GHG emissions increased 13% year-over-year, primarily driven by increased data center energy consumption and supply chain emissions.

While we advanced clean energy on many of the grids where we operate, there are still some hard-to-decarbonize regions like Asia-Pacific where CFE isn’t readily available. In addition, we often see longer lead times between initial investments and construction of clean energy projects and the resulting GHG reductions from them. To continue to drive progress toward a low-carbon economy, we most recently introduced a clean transition rate that brings customers and utilities together to drive new clean energy projects in the U.S., and we unveiled an investment to enable 1 gigawatt of new solar capacity in Taiwan.

A sustainable future requires systems-level change, strong government policies and new technologies. We’re committed to collaboration and playing our part, every step of the way.

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