“Carbon Neutral since 2007” it says on the Google homepage.
Google follow a standard called PAS 2060 that is like an instruction guide for businesses and carbon neutrality. You may have seen things like ISO 14001 which is another standard for environmental work. One I was trained in.
If you follow the standard and pass the assessment then you are carbon neutral according to the guidelines. I had no real issue here until I read this comment from Google
“You can still be producing carbon, be connected to a grid that is burning coal. As long as you offset that by purchasing renewable energy somewhere, you can still achieve carbon neutrality.” It’s offsetting programme does not compensate for its emissions by removing carbon from the atmosphere.
What I think Google refer to here is basically carbon credits, or a thing called renewable energy certificates (RECs) we call them in the UK.
The expectations of carbon neutrality would be emissions minus offsets as the PAS standard basically outlines. I can’t see the full rules as it is expensive to buy the standard but this looks correct.
The problem is, if you purchase 100mWh of coal energy and 100mWh of wind energy this is defined as “neutral” in the way Google describe. It clearly is not. It’s like murdering someone and not murdering someone else and saying nobody was murdered. A neutral action that emits nothing does not offset a negative.
Offsets have issues when done properly but good ones should remove what the emissions were. Any real offset is additional, i.e it did not happen without the payment from the company. Google’s renewables are already generated and they are just buying them rather than creating more or taking carbon out the atmosphere. No new renewables are generated here and the price paid is typically far to low to cause new renewables to be built.
Unless Google misspoke this is quite poor but they are following the rules so isn’t their fault. I didn’t like standards when I did ISO14001 for the reason it could be easily cheated. It was a paper trail of thought without any proven reductions being required.
Google also aim to tackle legacy emissions which means what they emitted before they were “neutral” in 2007. They say this is through high quality offsets which is hopefully true.
In many ways Google are great. Getting to fully renewable energy by 2030 is their goal which would be incredible, so this is not an attack on them. They actually have great aims and using PAS 2060 as a stepping stone of progress is great.
Rather, carbon neutrality as a concept is flawed for the simple reason if everyone was carbon neutral carbon emissions would still increase.
That clearly isn’t neutrality.