Our annual carbon footprint update

Google has been a carbon neutral company for seven years, and every year around this time we calculate our carbon footprint so we can make sure to offset it completely. Today we’ve updated the Google Green website with our 2013 carbon footprint data so you can explore it for yourself.

For 2013, we reported a carbon footprint of 1.77 million metric tons to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Our gross carbon footprint was up slightly from 2012, but our data center efficiency initiatives, renewable energy purchases and high-quality carbon offset purchases brought our footprint back down to zero. We’re proud to report that our carbon intensity dropped for the fifth year in a row, down to 31.8 metric tons of CO2 / million dollars of revenue, a drop of 3.6% from 2012.

Last year when we posted our 2012 update we calculated that serving an active Google user for one month is like driving a car one mile. We updated our numbers and this calculation still holds true. To serve that user, Google emits about 8 grams of CO2 per day.

This annual update also provides a nice opportunity to look back on the steps we’ve taken over the past year as we’ve worked to reduce our environmental impact:
  • Data centers: We addressed efficiency, industry challenges and how to solve them at our “How Green is the Internet” summit in 2013. Being the most efficient is important to us, especially at our data centers where we use 50% of the energy of a typical data center.
  • Environmental certifications: We’re the first major Internet company in the U.S. to get multi-site ISO 50001 Energy Management System certification, for 9 data centers in the US and EU (so far).
  • Renewable energy: To date, we’ve signed long term contracts for over a gigawatt of renewable energy for our data centers and facilities. We have stayed true to our rigorous method for purchasing clean energy. We look for renewables when evaluating new locations and we factor an internal carbon price into our financial calculations.
  • Renewable energy tariff: We use renewable energy when we can, but because of some utilities’ rules, we don’t always have a choice. Last year we worked with Duke Energy, a major utility, to develop a “green source rider.” This gives the option for Google and other companies like us to purchase renewable energy directly from Duke. Google was the first customer to request and successfully receive this. We have detailed our approach to help others in the industry to do it too.
  • Carbon offsets: To bring our footprint to zero, we invest in projects that reduce carbon emissions at sources outside of Google. We're very picky to make sure that our investments have a positive impact - one that wouldn’t have happened without us.
  • Investments: We’ve also been hard at work bringing more clean energy to everyone. We’ve signed agreements to provide $1.5 billion in funding to renewable energy projects, like Ivanpah, which was named Plant of the Year for its innovative solar power tower technology. With our investments, we’re helping energize 2.5 GW of renewable energy across the world. That’s enough to power 500,000 homes and far more energy than we use as a company.

Overall, 35% of our energy for our operations—that includes offices, all of our data centers and other infrastructure—came from renewable sources last year. That’s an increase from the previous year, which is no mean feat given how quickly we’re growing as a company. To keep up with that growth, we’re continuing to sign new long-term energy contracts, like our recent 407 MW agreement with MidAmerican Energy. As these projects come online, the amount of energy we get from renewable sources will continue to grow.

Posted by Kelsey Vandermeulen, Program Manager, Carbon Offsets