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Google outlines underwhelming, unambitious hardware sustainability goals

Google is attempting to follow Apple’s lead by making a commitment to the sustainability of its Made By Google hardware.

The firm has detailed pledges to be carbon neutral for shipping consumer devices, while it has promised to include recycled materials in all of its products in the next few years.

The firm says that by 2020 “all shipments going to or from customers will be carbon neutral,” and that by 2022 it will “include recycled materials with a drive to maximise recycled content wherever possible.”

While that might sound great, a commitment to include something recycled in devices like Pixel phones, Home speakers and Pixebook laptop/tablets isn’t exactly a massive stretch. Essentially the company could use a tiny piece of recycled material in the device somewhere and tick that box. There’s also nothing in Google’s new mission statement pertaining to ending the mining of precious earth metals, while Apple has outlined that as a major target for sustainability.

Apple’s late 2018 Mac models use 100 per cent recycled aluminium for example, while the company added post-consumer recycled plastic to the new Mac mini. Overall the company has been able to reduce the carbon footprint of both products by 50%.

Related: The very plastic Google Pixel 3a – reviewed

Google also doesn’t state what “maximising” the use of recycled materials in its devices really means. It hasn’t set a public target in that regard either.

The company points out that today’s commitments will “build on the foundation and progress we’ve already made.”

In the blog post, the company’s head of hardware sustainability Anna Meegan wrote: “In 2018, we began publishing our product environmental reports, which help everyone understand exactly what our products are made of, how they’re built and how they get shipped to you. And from 2017 to 2018, our carbon emissions for product shipments decreased by 40 percent.”

This was achieved by switching from air-based shipping to cargo ships, Google says. In an interview with Fast Company, the company’s head hardware designer said sustainability is the most important problem humanity faces and the Google is embracing designing with those challenges in mind.

“Some people think design is about making things look pretty or look good,” says Ivy Ross. “And really design is about solving problems for humanity … I said to the team, wait a minute, [sustainability] is just another problem and is probably the most important problem of our lifetime. Won’t we feel great as designers if we are taking that on?”

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