Tag Archives: Sustainability

Street View cars measure Amsterdam’s air quality

The quality of the air we breathe has a major impact on our health. Even in Amsterdam, a city where bikes make up 36 percent of the traffic, the average life span is cut short by a year as a result of polluted air. Information about air quality at the street level can help pinpoint areas where the quality is poor, which is useful for all types of people—whether you’re a bicyclist on your daily commute, a parent taking your children to a local park, or an urban planner designing new communities.

A Street View car in Amsterdam..jpg

A Street View car in Amsterdam.

Project Air View

Building on efforts in London and Copenhagen, Google and the municipality of Amsterdam are now working together to gain insight into the city’s air quality at the street level. Amsterdam already measures air quality at several points around the city. Information from two of our Street View cars in Project Air View will augment the measurements from these fixed locations, to yield a more detailed street-by-street picture of the city’s air quality.

To take the measurements, the Street View cars will be equipped with air sensors to measure nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, ultra-fine dust and soot (extremely small particles that are hardly ever measured). Scientists from Utrecht University are equipping the air sensors into the vehicles, and working with the municipality and Google to plan the routes for driving and lead the data validation and analysis. Once the data validation and analysis is complete, we’ll share helpful insights with the public, so that everyone—citizens, scientists, authorities and organizations—can make more informed decisions.

This research can spread awareness about air pollution and help people take action. For example, if the research shows differences in air quality between certain areas in the city, people could adjust their bike route or choose another time to exercise. Our hope is that small changes like this can help improve overall quality of life. For more information about Project Air View, visit g.co/earth/airquality.

After school, this teen tracks climate change with NASA

Editor's Note: Liza Goldberg is a 17-year-old scientist interning at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Biospheric Sciences Lab. Today, she shares how Google Earth Engine helps her monitor mangroves, which are ecosystems vital to the sustainability of coastal communities around the world.  

I first heard the words “climate change” when I was 9. As a fourth-grade student in Maryland, my class studied the local Chesapeake Bay; we raised horseshoe crabs and observed the effects of extreme weather and sea level rise on the ecosystem. After studying the human-environment interactions in my community and the broader region, I decided I wanted to dedicate my life to curbing climate change.

Two years later, I began a science fair project to study the impacts of simulated warming on the carbon dioxide exchange of red maple saplings. Every weekend for three years, I used a gas analyzer to test eight trees I planted in my backyard, and submitted the project to a local fair. I explained my research to a judge, who connected me with scientists in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Biospheric Sciences Lab. Thanks to that connection, I went from testing saplings in my backyard to working with a world-renowned team of forest change scientists at age 14.

Liza Goldberg, teen scientist

Building the artificial warming chambers for my science project in my backyard.


My research group studies mangrove forests, which are vital coastal ecosystems that buffer infrastructure during extreme weather and support local fisheries. When I first began my internship at NASA in 2016, I had never heard of mangroves or learned about the scope of global forest losses, but I began reading news articles about a series of widespread mangrove losses occurring in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia. Thousands of hectares of forests died that year, and scientists didn’t gain a complete understanding of what caused the devastation until much later. I decided to build a program that could use satellite imagery to monitor the location and drivers of mangrove loss, potentially helping to prevent another large-scale dieback in the future.

Google Earth Engine provided me with the scope of datasets and computing power necessary to analyze forest change on a global scale. I began my project at NASA with no knowledge of satellites or image processing, but guidance from my mentors, Dr. David Lagomasino and Dr. Lola Fatoyinbo, and my intensive studying of the Earth Engine developer resources helped me move from endless notes and plans to actual working code.

In mapping past global mangrove losses and drivers, we used long-term Landsat satellite imagery to identify regions of disturbance. Machine learning algorithms helped to identify where mangroves were converted to urban regions, agriculture, aquaculture or mudflats. Using the Earth Engine Apps interface, we’re working towards making our data both openly accessible and widely understandable for users of any background. Communicating our results at a comprehensible level is arguably as important as the science itself, as the ultimate goal of the project is to deliver our data to mangrove-reliant communities on the ground.

The beginning stages of EcoMap, a global mangrove loss and vulnerability system

The beginning stages of EcoMap, a global mangrove loss and vulnerability system

We’re currently working with conservationists and researchers at The Everglades Foundation to use our mangrove loss driver data to understand the impacts of sea level rise and hurricanes in Everglades National Park. In the future, we also aim to provide coastal communities in East Africa with the real-time loss and loss driver data necessary to sustainably manage and conserve local forests.

My story is just one example of the impact of mentorship and resources on research development, regardless of age. I entered my NASA project with a set of seemingly unattainable goals, and the combination of my mentors’ guidance and Earth Engine’s power helped to make them reality. As this field progresses, I am excited to continue using Earth Engine as a means of monitoring a changing planet and balancing its needs with those of society.  

Why “healthy” materials are key to Google’s new buildings

As a New Yorker, I’m struck by California’s  natural beauty. When I visit Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, I walk along the sidewalk and exclaim things like, “Is that wild sage?” (My coworkers find it amusing.)The tree-lined scenery of the San Francisco Bay Area gives some much-needed refreshment to my senses, which tend to be dulled by subway cars and honking car horns.

When I’m in the Bay Area, I often wonder how two completely different worlds—one of computer chips and algorithms and another of sprawling shoreline and wildlife—can coexist peacefully in one place. When I spoke with Robin Bass, Sustainability Lead for Google’s Real Estate and Workplace Services team, for our latest She Word interview, she shed light on how Google approaches this question every day, and what we’re doing to make sure we give back to the land we build on.

How would you describe your job at a dinner party?

I usually refer to myself as a recovering architect. I’ve worked in architecture for 20 years and sustainability has always been my focus. At Google, my responsibility is to ensure that our buildings provide healthy spaces for the people in them and that we leave the spaces between the buildings better than we found them.

How did you initially become interested in sustainability?

When I was an architecture student, it was the only direction that made sense to me. In school, the culture was to critique. If you don’t have a strong point of view about why you’re doing things it can come across as “because it’s pretty,” and that’s architecture at its worst. Instead, leading with “this is the way the sun moves across the site,” or “this is the way water moves in and out of the site” is an irrefutable argument. There’s no stronger footing than orienting your buildings for people and nature, so sustainability was my go-to design aesthetic.

Have you found strong female influences or mentors in your career?

Architecture is very male dominated—and I would even go so far as to say it’s white male dominated—but sustainability is different. I was able to find so many female mentors in the industry who shared the same alignment toward the future about the world we wanted to create. It was life-changing for me. Now I’m at a point in my career where I can buoy the next generation, and diversity and inclusion in particular is a huge priority for me. In the same way that landscapes have greater resilience when they are diverse, the community of designers and builders creating those landscapes should be inclusive and diverse as well.

How did these sustainability elements play out in some of your recent projects at Google’s offices, like Charleston East, Bay View and Spruce Goose?

The most sustainable building is the one you don’t build, so at Spruce Goose in the Los Angeles area, using an old airplane hangar rather than building a new office is capitalizing on the carbon that has already been invested there, and anyone who walks in is struck by the magical and unusual space.

At Charleston East and Bay View in Mountain View, our team is pursuing the Living Building Challenge, which stipulates that a building should exist on its site like a flower in a field. It’s all about net positive energy, waste and water, which is radical, aspirational and really hard to accomplish. These two buildings have a common design—both roof structures are unique, which makes the interior spaces remarkable—but they have different sustainability goals because of where they’re located, even though they are just a few miles apart.

Charleston East’s goal is about healthy materials. We’re vetting every product that comes onto the site against a red list of chemicals, and we’re working toward net positive waste, which means integrating waste back into the production of new materials instead of sending it to a landfill after one use. Bay View backs up close to the San Francisco Bay, so we’re pursuing net positive water. The goal is to have no connection to a central plumbing utility or a sewer; all of the water on that site will come from a closed loop.

What is one habit that makes you successful?

I am genuinely curious about people. When I’m sitting across a table from someone who doesn’t share my worldview, I find it’s important to be really curious about who they are, what motivates them and what’s hard for them so we can find common ground. You can turn someone who is not an advocate into your biggest supporter by authentically wanting to know them.

What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?

Explore! Don’t be afraid of trying something that you ultimately don’t like. Failure is a really great feedback mechanism, and it’s not about how many times you fail, it’s about getting back up and sharpening all the tools you’re bringing to the table because the world needs you, and it’s never needed you more.

Get lost in the new Earth Timelapse, now on mobile

Today we’re introducing several updates to Google Earth Timelapse, a global, zoomable time-lapse video that lets anyone explore the last 35 years of our changing planet’s surface—from the global scale to the local scale. This update adds two additional years of imagery to the time-series visualization, now spanning from 1984 to 2018, along with mobile support and visual upgrades to make exploring more accessible and intuitive.

Desktop and Mobile

Timelapse provides a comprehensive picture of our changing Earth—including stunning phenomena like the sprouting of Dubai’s Palm Islands, the retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier and the impressive urban expansion of Las Vegas, Nevada (seen below).

Scientists, documentarians and journalists have used this dataset to help us better understand the complex dynamics at work on our planet. News outlets have brought their reporting to life with Timelapse imagery, from coverage of the floods in Houston, Texas to population monitoring. Recently, a team of scientists at the University of Ottawa published an article Nature based on the Timelapse dataset which revealed a 6,000 percent increase in landslides on a Canadian Arctic island since 1984. Starting this week, if you’re in the U.K., you can see Timelapse imagery featured in Earth From Space, a new BBC series about the incredible discoveries and perspectives captured from above. 

Zeit

Zeit Online uses Timelapse to show the extent to which jungles are cleared for soy production in Brazil.

Using Google Earth Engine, Google's cloud platform for petabyte-scale geospatial analysis, we combined more than 15 million satellite images (roughly 10 quadrillion pixels) to create the 35 global cloud-free images that make up Timelapse. These images come from the U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat and European Sentinel programs. Once again, we joined forces with our friends at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, whose Time Machine video technology makes Timelapse interactively explorable.

Today's update also adds mobile and tablet support, making it a little easier for you to explore, research or get lost in the imagery—from wherever you are. Up until recently, mobile browsers disabled the ability to autoplay videos, which is critical for Timelapse (since it’s made up of tens of millions of multi-resolution, overlapping videos). Chrome and Firefox reinstated support for autoplay (with sound muted), so we’ve added mobile support with this latest update.

Timelapse Phone

Earth Timelapse, now available on phones and tablets, includes a handy new "Maps Mode" toggle to let you navigate the map using Google Maps.

The design of the new Timelapse interface leverages Material Design with simple, clean lines and clear focal areas, so you can easily navigate the immense dataset. We contributed this new user interface to the open-source Time Machine project, used by Carnegie Mellon and others. Read more about our design approach at Google Design.

We’re committed to creating products like Timelapse with the planet in mind, and hope that making this data easily accessible will ground debates, encourage discovery, and inform the global community’s thinking about how we live on our planet. Get started with Timelapse on the Earth Engine website, or take a mesmerizing tour of the world through YouTube.


From food waste to tasty treats in Google’s kitchens

For Kristen Rainey, a carrot is more than a vegetable. It’s the opportunity to cook “from root to stem” and make anything from salads and juice to ice cream and candy. Cooking this way helps combat food waste, an issue that affects everyone—particularly the 800 million people who suffer from hunger each year.

One third of all food produced for human consumption, or about 1.3 billion pounds of food, is wasted every year. Plus,  wasted food emits potent greenhouse gases when it decomposes. “The situation is a lose-lose-lose,” Kristen says. “When you consider all of the resources that went into making the food that’s ultimately wasted, it becomes clear that we have a problem.”

Kristen, a Procurement & Resource Utilization Manager based in Google’s Portland office, leads strategy to reduce food waste, water and energy in company kitchens and cafes. When it comes to food, they take a “circular economy” approach, meaning that they prioritize reusing ingredients and raw materials rather than buying new ones and tossing leftovers in the trash.

Using these strategies, Google has prevented six million pounds of food waste since 2014. Here are four strategies that made that happen.

1. Use technology to cut back on waste.

A LeanPath setup in a Google kitchen.

A LeanPath setup in a Google kitchen.

Google’s offices partner with LeanPath in 189 cafes in 26 different countries. The system features a camera that takes pictures of the food waste items, a scale that weighs it and a tablet for a team member to enter additional information about the item.

This info then gets uploaded to the cloud, and those numbers allow Google to track and gain insights about food waste. Using this data, chefs are able to make adjustments in the kitchen, such as scaling back the purchasing of ingredients or teaching team members how to trim vegetables in order to utilize a greater percentage of the product.

2. Consider the ingredients.

"Imperfect" produce

So-called “imperfect” produce is often used in Google’s kitchens.

When thinking of ingredients, Google’s chefs make sustainability a priority. For example, many dishes can be made with imperfect-looking produce, meaning fruits and vegetables that might look misshapen or have slight discolorations, but are still just as delicious. They are also focused on finding innovative suppliers like CoffeeCherry, which creates flour from coffee bean byproduct, or Toast, beer brewed with leftover bread.

Chefs at Google also consider using the entire vegetable, from root to stem, and an entire animal when cooking meat. Whether it’s using the skin of a sweet potato or carrot tops in a vegetable dish or using turkey neck and giblets for a stock or gravy, it’s easy to utilize food that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill.

3. Get creative in the kitchen.

Chefs prepare vegetables in a Google kitchen

Inevitably, some food is going to be left over, but that doesn’t mean it’s hitting the trash. Scott Giambastiani, Google’s food program manager based in Sunnyvale, California, says chefs in Google kitchens have come up with inventive solutions to repurpose food. They've used trimmings from leafy greens to make smoothies and the stems from those greens and root vegetables to make sauces like pesto and chimichurri. “All of these practices not only reduce food waste but they also enhance the nutritional value of the final dish,” Scott says.

Google chefs also cook in small batches as they go, looking at crowd sizes and estimating how much to cook rather than preparing a large quantity at once. This practice, combined with careful planning of how many ingredients to purchase, prevents a good deal of food waste.

4. Don’t just toss waste in the garbage.

Ingredients in a Google kitchen

If leftovers can’t be repurposed into new dishes, that doesn’t mean they always end up in a landfill. Google cafes make it a point to donate leftovers to local shelters and food banks, and compost whenever possible. They’re also focused on ways to stop food waste before it starts, by encouraging Googlers to be mindful of how much food they put on their plates—and reminding them they can always go back for seconds. 

Finding a place to charge your EV is easy with Google Maps

If you’ve ever driven to an electric vehicle (EV) charging station only to find that all ports are occupied, you know that you could end up waiting in line for anywhere between minutes to hours—which can really put a damper on your day when you have places to go and things to do.


Starting today, you can see the real time availability of charging ports in the U.S. and U.K, right from Google Maps–so you can know if chargers are available before you head to a station. Simply search for “ev charging stations” to see up to date information from networks like Chargemaster, EVgo, SemaConnect and soon, Chargepoint. You’ll then see how many ports are currently available, along with other helpful details, like the business where the station is located, port types and charging speeds. You’ll also see information about the station from other drivers, including photos, ratings, reviews and questions.
realtime

You can search for real time EV charging information on Google Maps on desktop, Android, iOS and on Google Maps for Android Auto. To get started, update your Google Maps app from the App Store or Play Store.


Steps toward a more sustainable future

People perform trillions of searches on Google each year, upload hundreds of hours of videos to YouTube each minute, and receive more than 120 billion emails every week. Making all of these Google services work for everyone requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work, like operating a global network of data centers around the clock and manufacturing products for people around the world.

It’s not only our responsibility to build products and services that are fast and reliable for everyone, but also to make sure we do so with minimal impact to our planet. So this Earth Day, we’re taking inventory of the progress we've made when it comes to sustainability and where we plan to do more.

We’ve scaled up our use of renewable energy.  

  • In 2017, we hit a goal that we set five years earlier and matched 100 percent of the electricity consumption of our operations with purchases of renewable energy. This means that for each unit of energy we used that year, we purchased an equivalent unit of energy from a renewable source, such as wind or solar.

  • When we buy renewable energy, we only do so from projects that are constructed for Google. This helps us bring on new clean energy supply to the grids where we operate our facilities.

  • Today, a Google data center uses 50 percent less energy than a typical data center, while delivering seven times more computing power than we did five years ago.

  • We use AI to help safely run our data center cooling systems—already this has resulted in 30 percent energy savings.

  • We’re weaving circularity into our operations.  In our data centers, we use components from old servers to upgrade machines and build remanufactured machines with refurbished parts.

We build products and services that help others become a part of the solution.  

  • To date, Nest Thermostats have helped people save a total of more than 35 billion kilowatt hours of energy—that’s enough energy to power the city of San Francisco for three years.

  • Researchers and policy makers use our Google Geo platforms to better take care of our planet. Product like Google Earth Engine help people combat overfishingmonitor forest change and protect the freshwater supply.

  • Businesses that switch from locally hosted solutions to G Suite have reported reductions in IT energy use and carbon emissions up to 85 percent.

  • Organizations that move IT infrastructure and collaboration applications, like Gmail and Google Docs, from a self managed data center or colocation facility to Google Cloud reduce the net carbon emissions of their computing to zero.

Our sustainability work isn’t over. When we think long term, we’re working toward directly sourcing carbon-free energy for our operations-—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—in all the places we operate. Already, we’re working with governments and utility companies to chart a course toward making a 24x7 carbon-free grid  a reality so more companies and people can decrease their carbon footprint. We know that it is the right path forward, and we have just begun.  

Along the way we’ll continue to find more ways to protect our planet with our sustainability efforts. Follow along with us in this collection that we’ll be updating all week long in celebration of Earth Day.

Grown in the Netherlands, Google Tulip communicates with plants

Throughout time, humans have created more and more effective ways to communicate with each other. But technology hasn’t quite made it there with flowers, even though it’s no secret that members of the floral world do talk to one another. Scientists have found that plants use their roots to send signals to neighboring plants, as a means to maintain their security and wellbeing.

Decoding the language of plants and flowers has been a decades-long challenge. But that changes today. Thanks to great advancements in artificial intelligence, Google Home is now able to understand tulips, allowing translation between Tulipish and dozens of human languages.

Google Tulip, alongside a Google Home Hub on a couch

The ability to speak with tulips comes with great environmental and societal benefits. Tulips now have a way to indicate to humans that they’re in need of water, light or simply some more space. As their needs are expressed more clearly, they are able to live a happier and healthier life.   

Socially, it turns out that plants, and particularly tulips, are very chatty, and make for great friends. Tulips are excellent listeners and when listened to carefully, give sound advice.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google Tulip was largely developed and tested in the Netherlands, a country that produces 12.5 billion flowers a year. In particular, the Dutch are world renowned for their tulips, and even have a world-famous flower park, called Keukenhof, which provided the perfect testing ground.

Google is uniquely positioned to solve the challenge of speaking with plants. Building on an advancement called Neural Machine Translation, we worked with Wageningen University & Research to map tulip signals to human language. After two years of training, we were finally able to add Tulipish as a language to Google Home’s recently introduced Interpreter Mode.

Google Tulip is only available on April 1, 2019. Look for it on your Google Home device, simply by saying, “Hey Google, talk to my tulip.”

A new app to map and monitor the world’s freshwater supply

Water affects all of us, no matter where we live. Drought harms everyone, from farmers in the western United States dealing with long-term drought, to people in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan suffering debilitating health consequences from the Aral Sea draining, to millions of people displaced by floods in Kerala, India. About four billion people, or almost two-thirds of the world’s population, experience severe water scarcity at least one month of the year.


Water, critical to daily life, and a key priority in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6), has proven difficult for most countries to measure. In 2017, of the roughly 200 United Nations Environment member countries, 80 percent of them were unable to provide fundamental national statistics. Even still, many knew substantial changes were happening.
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The Aral Sea has shrunk by around 80 percent since 1985

Today, on World Water Day, we’re proud to showcase a new platform enabling all countries to freely measure and monitor when and where water is changing: UN’s Water-Related Ecosystems, or sdg661.app. Released last week in Nairobi at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), the app provides statistics for every country’s annual surface water (like lakes and rivers). It also shows changes from 1984 through 2018 through interactive maps, graphs and full-data downloads.

This project is only possible because of the unique partnerships between three very different organizations. In 2016, European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Google released the Global Surface Water Explorer in tandem with a publication in “Nature.” An algorithm developed by the JRC to map water was run on Google Earth Engine. The process took more than 10 million hours of computing time, spread across more than 10,000 computers in parallel, a feat that would have taken 600 years if run on a modern desktop computer. But the sheer magnitude of the high resolution global data product tended to limit analysis to only the most tech savvy users and countries.

The new app, created in partnership with United Nations Environment, aims to make this water data available to everyone. Working with member countries to understand their needs, it features smaller, more easily manageable tables and maps at national and water body levels. Countries can compare data with one another, and for the first time gain greater understanding of the effects of water policy, and infrastructure like dams, diversions, and irrigation practices on water bodies that are shared across borders.
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Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States, has fluctuated as Las Vegas expands.

Lakes

Egypt's Toshka Lakes lakes were created by diverting water from Lake Nasser so crops could be irrigated in the desert region. When the project was abandoned, the lakes evaporated.

Today, countries have very different capacities when it comes to monitoring their waters. Countries with substantial existing resources have found the app results align closely with their current methods, and are evaluating using this new data source, which will enable them to reallocating resources toward other priorities in the future. For countries that have never had this information, the app provides free, scientifically validated data, that will now inform their environmental policies. For the first time ever, we have a globally consistent way of measuring water and its changes over time. And it’s accessible to everyone.


The UN’s theme for this year’s World Water Day is “Leaving no one behind,” and we’re working to do just that. Google platforms are playing an important role to help every country better understand their own environment and resources, so we can all design for a sustainable world.