Technology

Google updates Maps, Search, Buying and Nest with sustainability in thoughts

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From Wednesday, the environmentally friendly routing of Google Maps will be available in the USA

Photo courtesy of Google

On Wednesday, Google introduced a number of changes to many of its core products to help consumers make more sustainable choices.

“Climate change is more than a threat today,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet, in a taped video during a virtual press event on Tuesday. “It is a real and present danger. From forest fires to floods to more frequent and severe storms, climate change is the greatest risk we face, one that affects our health, our economy and our common future on this planet.”

Google is a leader in sustainability. It became climate neutral in 2007, meaning it has since bought compensation for all CO2-emitting energy sources. and is committed to running carbon-free energy by 2030.

“That means every question you ask Google, every email you send, every YouTube video you watch is delivered with zero CO2 emissions,” Pichai said. “We consider this a moon shot” – a long-term bet that could have a big impact.

With the series of product updates, Google hopes to make sustainability an easier choice, Pichai said.

Here are the changes Google is making to its products. Some of these updates will be available starting Wednesday and some are still in the works.

Google Maps: routes with less fuel consumption

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By default, Google Maps chooses the most environmentally friendly route if the travel time is roughly the same as without taking CO2 emissions into account. This product update was announced in March but will take effect Wednesday in the US and 2022 in Europe.

Google Maps calculates fuel consumption based on road gradient, congestion and traffic forecasts, said Sarah-Jayne Williams, director of Google Maps.

To make these routing recommendations, Google has partnered with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, Williams said at the event on Tuesday.

If the greener route takes significantly longer to get to their destination, customers can choose between the faster or the more sustainable route, Williams said.

“We believe the feature will have the same effect over the next year as taking over 200,000 cars off the road,” said Pichai.

Google Maps is also working with companies like Bird and Donkey Republic to expand the sharing of bike and scooter information in 300 cities around the world, including Berlin, New York, Sao Paolo and Taipei.

With this update released on Wednesday, you can find nearby bike and scooter sharing stations and “even see in real time how many vehicles are available,” Williams said. The update also shows where there are bike and scooter parking spaces.

Google Travel: CO2 emissions with flight information

From Wednesday, Google will bring information on CO2 emissions directly to Google Flights.

Courtesy of Google

Google will show the CO2 emissions associated with a flight in search results, said Stephanie Horton, marketing director for Google Commerce. This feature will be introduced worldwide on Wednesday for almost every flight.

“We’re putting these numbers into context by marking flights with significantly higher emissions and adding a green badge to flights with significantly lower emissions,” Horton said in a recorded video on Tuesday.

The CO2 emissions take into account the type of aircraft and are also seat-specific. Business-class and first-class seats result in more carbon emissions as they take up more space, Horton said. American Airlines and Lufthansa will provide fuel consumption data to help Google validate its emissions information, a Google spokesman said. The flight search platform Kayak, a unit of Booking Holdings, launched a tool earlier this year that allows travelers to sort flights by emissions.

Google wants to help consumers make sustainable decisions about where they are when they travel.

In the past decade, the number of Google searches for “eco hotels” has doubled, Horton said. So the search results for hotels show whether “a hotel has made meaningful commitments to sustainable practices”.

Hotels in particular will show up with a badge next to their name in search results if they have received third-party certifications from Earth Check or Green Key, she said. This feature was introduced on September 22nd.

Google is coordinating with the Travalyst Coalition to develop an open model for calculating the CO2 emissions of a flight or a hotel in order to “bring standardization to the entire industry,” said Horton.

Information on energy consumption in the purchase results

Starting Wednesday, Google Shopping in the US will recommend inexpensive, sustainable options when customers are looking for energy-intensive devices such as stoves or water heaters.

Photo courtesy of Google

Google will make suggestions on purchase results for energy-intensive products such as ovens, dishwashers and water heaters that provide information about the sustainability of a purchase, said Horton. This feature will be rolled out in the US on Wednesday.

In addition, from the beginning of next year, Google search will make it easier for customers to make an environmentally friendly decision when buying a new car.

First, Google will label hybrid and electric cars and manufacturers to make them easier to find, Williams said.

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Also, Google search will show discount information for a hybrid or electric vehicle, compatible charging stations nearby, and typical charging times, Williams said.

These car purchase information tools will be rolled out this year, along with one that displays total energy costs and emissions information for cars, with more features in 2022, Williams said.

“At the heart of all of today’s updates is the concept of choice,” said Williams. “By helping people understand when more sustainable routes, modes of transport or cars are available, we give them the opportunity to choose the option that best suits their lifestyle.”

Search results: More climate focus

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Later in October, information search results for queries on climate change will appear in a new layout, Horton said. This feature will be available in English, French and Spanish.

“This new layout will show relevant information and guidance from authoritative sources like the United Nations, including concise explanations of the causes of climate change, its effects and even actions you can take to live more sustainably, such as transit,” said Horton.

Google is also introducing a function that shows a company’s sustainability score in addition to the stock market ticker and the current trading price. The sustainability rating comes from the Climate Disclosure Project, Google said.

Google Nest will postpone usage when the energy is cleaner

Automatically shift your heating and cooling power consumption to times when your network is cleaner or cheaper. Consumers receive a monthly impact report.

Photo courtesy of Google

A new feature on the Google Nest thermostat called Energy Shift automatically shifts heating and cooling energy times when the energy is cleaner, said Ben Brown, director of product management at Nest, in the Google press video released Tuesday.

“This flexibility is key to making better use of clean energy in your area,” said Brown.

For example, the energy shift function takes into account when there is an energy supply from clean sources such as wind and sun. Some utilities demand more energy during peak periods, and the Nest Energy Shift feature automatically uses energy at the most favorable times, Brown said.

If they wish, customers can override the automatic sustainability decisions and manually control their Nest thermostat system.

For $ 10 a month, Nest customers can choose to participate in the Nest Renew Premium program, which offsets fossil fuel home carbon emissions with credits for renewable energy.

“So you can be confident that every time you use electricity in your home, whether it’s turning on the lights, washing the washing machine, or watching TV, it is backing up clean energy sources,” Brown said.

The updates for the Nest thermostat will be released in a preview program in the coming weeks.

Future projects: Time-controlled traffic lights and tree-top mapping

So far, Google has carried out pilot projects to increase efficiency at traffic lights at four locations in Israel in cooperation with the communities of Haifa, Beer-Sheva and the Israel National Roads Company.

Photo courtesy of Google

Google has also been testing some projects that are not yet generally available.

For example, Google is working on a research project to optimize the efficiency of traffic lights across a city, Kate Brandt, chief sustainability officer, said in a recorded press conference.

“Inefficient traffic lights are bad for the environment and bad for public health. That’s because idling cars mean … wasting fuel and increasing air pollution at the street level,” she said.

The traffic light research team from Google has so far carried out pilot projects at four locations in Israel, said Brandt. These pilots have reduced fuel consumption and downtime at intersections by 10 to 20%. The next pilot for this project will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Google also uses artificial intelligence and aerial photos to see where trees are in cities and where there is a lack of tree cover. The beta project is called Tree Canopy Insights.

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