Humanity faces perhaps no larger collective challenge than that of climate change. During my time at COP27, I heard about initiatives like restoring ocean mangroves, developing zero-emission hydrogen fueled cars and the future of small modular reactors. All of these solutions are critical as we urgently work to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Corporations and governments must lead the charge as they have the biggest levers for reducing emissions. However, climate action starts with individual, everyday decisions.
The most recent IPCC report clearly states that lifestyle emissions represent an area where small changes to your daily routine can have a big impact on global emissions. With policy support, 'behavior and socio-cultural' change could deliver a rapid 5 percent reduction in demand-side carbon emissions.
People are interested in making these changes — we’re seeing this as people come to Google Search to find ways to live more sustainably. In fact, search interest in queries like ‘rooftop solar power’, ‘electric bicycles’ and ‘electric cars' reached all-time highs this year. Yet, there is an extremely wide “say-do gap” among consumers — those who are concerned about sustainability and those who make sustainable purchases.
Google is helping bridge that gap by enabling a billion users to take more sustainable actions through our products. These everyday choices often also help them save time, money and energy. Here are three key ways in which individuals can choose to be more sustainable today:
Home energy: Heating and cooling your home have the largest impact on emissions. To date, Nest thermostats have saved more than 100 billion kWh of energy — more than double Portugal's electricity consumption in 2021. With a Nest thermostat, people can track how long they spent heating and cooling their home and see how they can reduce that time to use less energy. And, as the price of installing solar has gotten more affordable, homeowners can now turn to it as a possible additional option for decreasing their energy bill. Project Sunroof estimates energy savings for the home, using the same data powering Google Maps to create a 3D model of your roof.
Transportation: Without active and sustained mitigation policies being implemented, transport emissions could increase at a faster rate than emissions from the other energy end-use sectors. Whether traveling near or far, there are options to make more sustainable decisions. Google Maps now lets you choose the most fuel-efficient route if it isn’t already the fastest one, which has already helped avoid more than half a million metric tons of carbon emissions — equivalent to taking approximately 100,000 fuel-based cars off the road. Companies like delivery or ride-sharing services can now become more sustainable by using the same eco-friendly routing capability in their apps. Air travel is also a big contributor to global warming – with Google Flights, people can now see the carbon emissions per seat and choose a lower emitting route.
Shopping: The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to the global climate and ecological crisis. If consumers are empowered with the right information, they can make more sustainable decisions, like purchasing pre-owned items. Now, when people search on Google for things like clothing or furniture, they’ll see a label indicating which products are pre-owned. And, if you’re shopping for a new car, you’re probably looking to lower your fuel costs and emissions. With a quick search, you can now see the annual fuel cost for cars and emissions estimates. And soon detailed, up-to-date information about EV rebates that are included in the Inflation Reduction Act to maximize sustainability, and cost will also show up in search.
Individual choices and actions are an important piece of this complex climate puzzle that often gets overlooked because people lack the information on where to start. In a recent report, 60 percent of respondents admitted that it is too difficult to find trustworthy information about climate change. We have a critical opportunity to unlock more impact.
The ability to measure the collective impact of these decisions will create significant potential for us all. This is important not only for Google, but for the growing number of companies offering solutions to help their customers reduce emissions.
It’s time to better understand how our everyday choices can add up to significant change for our planet.
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Image credit: Bill Mead via Unsplash
Kate Brandt is Google’s Sustainability Officer. She leads sustainability across Google’s worldwide operations, products and supply chain, coordinating with data center, real estate, and product teams to ensure the company capitalizes on opportunities to strategically advance sustainability.