Google to make Search, Maps and other services more climate-friendly

7 Oct 2021

Image: © kovop58/

Updates to Search, Maps, Travel and Nest aim to help Google users lower their carbon emissions by making informed decisions.

Google is rolling out updates to many of its services in a bid to help users make more sustainable choices in light of the climate crisis.

After last year’s commitment to emit zero emissions by 2030, the tech giant is now looking to help 1bn users make more climate-friendly choices by 2022.

“Companies aren’t the only ones asking what more we can do to help the planet – increasingly people are asking themselves those questions, too,” CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blogpost.

“So today we’re sharing several new ways people can use Google’s products to make sustainable choices.”

Services that will see sustainability changes include its search engine, Maps, Travel and Nest.

With the Search update, for example, when users look for information about the climate crisis on Google, the results will show “authoritative information” from reputable sources including the United Nations.

A focus on flights

From this week, carbon emissions information is being added to Google Flights. Users looking for flights will be provided with these details – right next to the flight price and duration.

“So when you’re choosing among flights of similar cost or timing, you can also factor carbon emissions into your decision,” Richard Holden, VP of Travel products at Google, said.

The estimates are flight-specific and also take into consideration the user’s chosen seat. Those flying in business class seats are, on average, responsible for higher emissions than those choosing regular seats because of the difference in space occupied.

“To put these estimates in context, flights with significantly lower emissions will be labelled with a green badge. And if you want to prioritise carbon impact, you can sort all the results to bring the greenest flights to the top of the list,” Holden added.

The data will be sourced from the airlines and the European Environmental Agency. “It’s critical that people can find consistent and accurate carbon emissions estimates no matter where they want to research or book their trip.”

Sustainable navigation

Google’s Maps service is now allowing users in the US to choose their routes according to fuel efficiency, even if it isn’t the fastest option. Users in Europe will have access to this feature in 2022.

“With just a few taps, you can see the relative fuel savings and ETA difference between the two routes and choose the one that works best for you,” Russell Dicker, Google senior director of product, said.

The company estimates that this feature could save more than 1m tonnes of carbon emissions a year and reduce costs for users.

When looking for cars to buy on Search, Google’s algorithm will also highlight hybrid and EV options to compare with fuel-based models to help shoppers make an informed decision.

Bikes and traffic lights

For those not interested in cars at all, Google is rolling out a new navigation feature for cyclists on Maps. Users can quickly see important details about their route such as trip progress, ETA, and elevation without needing to keep the screen on.

Google has also teamed up with micromobility partners to help users find bike and scooter sharing schemes in more than 300 cities including Berlin, New York, São Paulo.

Using AI, Google is trialling technologies that can optimise the efficiency of traffic lights in cities to reduce carbon emissions.

“We’ve been piloting this research in Israel to predict traffic conditions and improve the timing of when traffic lights change,” Pichai said. “We are seeing a 10pc to 20pc reduction in fuel consumption and delay time at intersections.”

He added that the new features aim to make sustainable choices an easier option. “At the individual level, these choices may seem small, but when people have the tools to make them at scale, they equal big improvements.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic