Why Pick On Google? How Green Are We The People?

Did you know that breathing for about 12 minutes emits roughly 7 grams of carbon dioxide into the air? According to a recent study conducted by Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist, that’s the same amount of carbon dioxide that’s emitted when you type in a search on Google. So, if you didn’t search, you could be just a little bit nicer to the planet. Or, you could hold your breath while you’re searching, as Kevin Marks suggests.

By now, you must be wondering, what has gotten into Om? Nothing, really – I just wanted to give some context to Wissner-Gross’ research, which was reported in today’s Sunday Times and points out that every time you search on Google, it has an environmental impact.

“Google are very efficient but their primary concern is to make searches fast and that means they have a lot of extra capacity that burns energy,” Wissner-Gross told the Sunday Times. (Wissner-Gross, by the way, is going to be speaking at our upcoming Green:Net conference slated to be held in San Francisco on March 24, 2009, where we will explore the carbon emissions impact of networking infrastructure, as well as various other topics.) As Katie over at Earth2Tech points out, Google’s business depends on its search being the best, which means cutting carbon emissions can’t come at the cost of speed.

I am not an expert on energy, but all I can say is, if Google is a polluter, at least its doing something about it. Google is investing heavily into clean technologies and alternative energy, and is experimenting with new data center architectures that use wave power, for example.  Google also happens to be one of the most energy-efficient Internet companies. It recently released a report that boasted the energy efficiency of its data centers compared to typical data centers, though there were some doubts about the veracity of its claims.


Regardless, the point of the matter is that our increasingly digital lives do have an impact on our environment. As we have pointed out on Earth2Tech, everything from bad code to inefficient data centers adds to its ecological footprint.  Seven grams of Co2 might not seem like much — after all, a small car emits .59 pounds (or about 268 grams) per person, per mile. But consider how often you do a Google search. Personally, I don’t think twice about it. I don’t bookmark anything — I just search for it on Google. And I’m sure many of you do exactly the same.

In a blog post today, Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President, Operations at Google responded to the charges by pointing out that “your own personal computer will use more energy than Google uses to answer your query.”

As Nick Carr says, it’s not about Google, “It’s about us.” The fact of the matter is that we waste a lot of energy – especially those of us who lead very digital lives.

In Silicon Valley, it is de rigueur to get a Toyota Prius (or if you are rich enough, a Tesla) — after all, you want to do something good for the environment! But at the same time, we are constantly using computers that are energy hogs. Our music systems, televisions, our endless tweets, our emails and our phone calls – everything has an impact. We are blissfully ignorant of the waste we create.

Why blame others? There have been times when I have forgotten to turn off my iMac, only to come home in the evening to see it still giving me a happy smile. That is not energy efficient. I am trying to be better every single day about my energy consumption. Every time I go to the gym, I see banks of monitors showing inane shows without a single person watching them. Sometimes I get angry enough and go around shutting off each one of them. Of course, the next day it is the same situation. I will keep trying till I get better about energy conservation.

Next time you quip that you can’t live without your computer, consider that maybe, you — and the planet — can’t live with it, either.

Google Data Center map courtesy of Pingdom via Wayfaring.