Google keeps its Googlers going via green buildings

19 Aug 2011

Google says it wants its Googlers to thrive and live up to their innovation potential by placing them in greener buildings that draw upon nature, clean air and daylight. The search giant is also pushing the building profession to adopt product transparency practices that Google says will “lead to real market transformation”.

In a post published on its Google Blog, Google has revealed its green building aspirations.

“When it comes to greening our office buildings, we apply the same focus that we use for any of our products: put the user first. We want to create the healthiest work environments possible where Googlers can thrive and innovate,” said the search giant, which is also increasingly pouring capital into renewable energy projects across the US.

Just in June, Google invested US$280m in a novel new fund with SolarCity to help homeowners across the US lease solar energy panels and help spur a clean-energy revolution.

Speaking about Google’s green building agenda for its Googlers, the post’s author, Anthony Ravitz, Green Team lead, Real Estate & Workplace Services, said: “From concept through design, construction and operations, we create buildings that function like living and breathing systems by optimising access to nature, clean air and daylight.”

Ravitz said that since his arrival at Google in 2006 he has been part of a team working to create “life-sustaining buildings that support the health and productivity of Googlers.”

He said the search giant avoids materials that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as other known toxins that could pose a threat to human health.

“Googlers don’t have to worry about the air they’re breathing or the toxicity of the furniture, carpet or other materials in their workspaces. We also use dual stage air filtration systems to eliminate particulates and remaining VOCs, which further improves indoor air quality.”

Google pushing for green building transformation

He also pointed to how Google is aiming to transform the green building industry in the US: “Since building materials don’t have ingredient labels, we’re pushing the industry to adopt product transparency practices that will lead to real market transformation. In North America, we purchase materials free of the Living Building Challenge Red List Materials and EPA Chemicals of Concern, and through the Pharos Project we ask our suppliers to meet strict transparency requirements.

Heating and cooling efficiencies

Ravitz then referred to how Google is also persevering to “shrink our environmental footprint by investing in the most efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems”.

In its offices, he said Google has performed energy and water audits and implemented conservation measures to develop best practices that it rolls out to its worldwide offices.

“To the extent possible, we seek out renewable sources for the energy that we do use. One of the earliest projects I worked on at Google involved installing the first solar panels on campus back in 2007. They have the capacity to produce 1.6 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity for us, which supplies about 30pc of our peak energy use on the buildings they cover.”

Google data centres – not so green?

It’s not all so green for Google data centres, however.

In its How Dirty is Your Data report released in April, Greenpeace looked at global cloud companies’ energy footprint, analysing what it called IT’s biggest disruption – cloud.

Greenpeace looked at the data centre investments of 10 top global cloud companies, including Google, Akamai, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo!

At the time, Apple topped the league for its reliance on coal power (54.5pc), closely followed by Facebook at 53.2pc and IBM at 51.6pc. Next in line was HP at 49.4pc, followed by Twitter at 42.5pc, Google at 34.7pc, Microsoft at 34.1pc, Amazon at 28.5pc and Yahoo! at 18.3pc.

Conversely, Greenpeace did add that Google and Yahoo! at the time appeared to be comprehending the importance of renewable energy supply, with Yahoo! positioning most of its data centres near renewable energy sources and with Google continuing to sign power purchase agreements for renewable energy and investing in solar and wind-energy projects.

Since the Greenpeace report, Google held its European Data Centre Summit in Zürich, Switzerland, in late April where it brought together more than 150 industry professionals to talk about data centre efficiencies and how to transition towards achieving a greener cloud.

Google data centre
Google data centre. Image courtesy of Google

At the summit, Google talked about how, with ‘free cooling’, companies can reduce their energy consumption by using the local environment to cool servers instead of energy-intensive chillers.

It said that in its data centres it uses both air cooling and evaporative cooling. Google also spoke about the seawater cooling system it custom-engineered for its new data centre in Hamina, Finland.

The search giant is now participating in the European Commission’s Code of Conduct for Data Centres.

Google has also put forward five low-cost steps it believes any company can use to increase its energy efficiency and lower its carbon footprint.

Still, the jury remains divided on the energy efficiency of data centres.

While Greenpeace estimated in its April report that data centres themselves consume 1.5-2pc of all global electricity, with this growing at a rate of 12pc a year, an independent report carried out by Prof Jonathan Koomey at Standford University on data centre power usage from 2005 to 2010 has recently revealed some interesting statistics about data centre usage between 2005 and 2010 worldwide.

In his report, Koomey asserted that the rapid rates of growth in data centre electricity use that prevailed from 2000 to 2005 slowed significantly from 2005 to 2010, yielding total electricity use by data centres in 2010 of about 1.3pc of all electricity use for the world, and 2pc of all electricity use for the US.

Koomey’s report also put forward that while Google is a high-profile user of computer servers, less than 1pc of electricity used by data centers worldwide was attributable to Google’s data centre operations operations.

Greening process

But, back to Google’s green building focus. In his blog post, Ravitz said that, “with a little healthy competition,” Google has gotten its offices around the globe involved in greening its operations.

“Our internal Sustainable Pursuit program allows teams to earn points based on their office’s green performance – whether it’s through green cleaning programs, water efficiency or innovative waste management strategies. We use Google Apps to help us track progress toward our goals — which meet or exceed the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards.”

In conclusion, Ravitz pointed to how the Google global team would be redefining their green building and workspaces approach.

“It’s a win for Googlers, our business and the environment,” he said.

Google: Building Sustainability

Google: Building Sustaibability

Video courtesy of Google Green’s YouTube channel

Main photo: In June 2011, Google invested US$280m in a novel new fund with SolarCity to help homeowners across the US lease solar energy panels

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic