On 29th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Google’s Environment Sustainability Report 2020, Climate Change Response report for 2020 and its Sustainability website.
The reports included environmental information, and data on energy, waste, water, greenhouse gas emissions and toxics. Google was thus felt to have a reasonable understanding of its environmental impacts.
There were many targets in the reports, some of which were quantified and future targets, including:
- "Operate on carbon-free energy 24/7 by 203"
- "Eliminate plastic from packaging and make packaging 100% recyclable by 2025"
- "Use recycled or renewable material in at least 50% of plastic used across our consumer hardware product portfolio by 2025"
Some of the company's carbon emissions data was said to be independently verified and a link was provided to a statement by Ernst & Young LLP. However the rest of the data included in the report did not appear to be independently verified.
Overall Google received Ethical Consumer’s middle rating for Environmental Reporting and lost half a mark in that category.


sustainability.google (4 September 2021)

In May 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed an article on Greenpeace's website which discussed the performance of Google, Amazon in Microsoft on climate change issues. The article was dated 27th January 2020.

The report stated: "Since 2018, Google made a long-term commitment to power its data centers 24×7 with carbon-free energy, which helps to further phase out fossil fuels from its operations. This is why Google’s contracts with oil and gas companies like Total, Shell, Schlumberger, Chevron, and others make no sense. To be the true climate leader Google wants to be, it must cancel its AI contracts with oil and gas firms."

A Forbes article titled 'Google Halts AI Tools For Oil Extraction', dated 19th May 2021, stated that "Google will honor existing contracts, but did not specify which companies those contracts are with".

As a result of this criticism, Google lost half a mark under the Climate Change category.


Microsoft, Google, Amazon – Who’s the Biggest Climate Hypocrite? (2020)

In May 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed the Greenpeace Report ‘Clicking Clean Virginia - The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley’ dated February 2019.
The Clicking Clean reports benchmark global internet platforms and major data centre operators on their use of renewable and dirty energy within their data centres. According to the 2019 report 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic is claimed to pass through just one of Virginia’s counties, and dramatic expansion increases demand in coal and natural gas. Less than 5 percent of power generation in Virginia comes from renewable sources.
The report stated, “Since 2012, more than 20 major tech companies have committed to power their global operations with renewable energy.”
“Despite 100% renewable commitments that have had significant impact in driving renewables in other markets, Virginia is an important reminder that utilities will only begin to scale up renewable generation when large customers seriously pursue their commitments”.
"Google was the first IT company to directly contract for a renewable supply of electricity, signing its first PPA in 2010 in Iowa. Despite operating one of the largest networks of data centers in the world to power its search engine and other online services, Google has only recently had operations in Virginia’s Data Center Alley. Google now has two data centers under development in Sterling, Virginia, and has two significant colocation leases in Ashburn to power the US-East4 region of the Google Cloud platform. Google has purchased over 2 .6 gigawatts of renewable energy globally, giving it a strong claim to being the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world. But despite recent creative claims of being “100 Percent Renewable Globally” from surplus supply of renewable credits in other markets, Google has not yet taken steps to add renewable energy to meet the demand of its data centers in Virginia. Google has been among the most active in supporting clean energy policies in other states where it has operations, particularly in neighboring North Carolina, but is yet to become directly engaged in shaping Virginia energy policy."
As it had been criticised by the report, the company lost half a mark under Climate Change.


Clicking Clean Virginia 2019 (February 2019)

Ethical Consumer viewed the updated Greenpeace Report ‘Clicking Clean: who is winning the race to build a greener internet?’ dated January 2017.
The Clicking Clean reports benchmarks the IT sector, ranking IT companies on their use of renewable and dirty energy within their data centres. According to the 2017 report the IT sector was estimated to consume about 7% of the world’s global electricity and was predicted to increase threefold in global internet traffic by 2020, resulting in the internet's energy footprint rising further, fuelled both by our individual consumption of data and by the spread of the digital age to more of the world's population.
Vevo received an ‘F’ grade in the 2017 Clicking Clean Report. The report stated "Vevo.com, a music video streaming service, appears to use both Rackspace and Amazon Web Services to host its content."
Energy Transparency: Vevo did not provide any information about its energy footprint.
Renewable Energy Commitment: Vevo had not set any renewable energy goals or adopted a long-term commitment to be renewably powered.
Efficiency and GHG mitigation: Vevo had not provided any evidence about increased energy efficiency.
RE procurement: Vevo had not offered evidence of renewable energy procurement.
Advocacy: Vevo had not provided any evidence of renewable energy advocacy.
As a result of its rating it lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer's Climate Change category.


Greenpeace USA Clicking Clean Report update (January 2017)

On 4th September 2021, Ethical Consumer searched the Google website for the company's policy on the use of potentially hazardous chemicals such as PVC, BFR and phthalates. The company's Restricted Substance List 990-00012-00-C was downloaded.

A toxics policy was deemed necessary for all electronics companies, as these substances were widely used by electronics companies and had a significant negative environmental impact when released after disposal.
A strong policy on toxics would include publicly disclosed data on the use of hazardous chemicals such as PVC, BFR and phthalates; as well as clear, dated targets for ending their use.

Google's restricted substances list stated the following:

PVC: Shall not be used

Brominated Flame Retardants: Shall not be used

Phthalates: 1000 ppm sum total content (Phthalates - changed limit from 1000 ppm individual to 1000 ppm sum total content.) The company appeared to be reducing use of phthalates but no clear dates were found in relation to this.

According to the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics 2017, all Google products were free of BFRs and PVC.

As the company had phased out PVC and brominated flame retardants but not phased out phthalates, nor had clear targets for doing so, it received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Pollution and Toxics and lost half a mark under this category.


sustainability.google (4 September 2021)

In October 2019, the Responsible Sourcing Network released a report titled ‘Mining the Disclosures 2019: An Investor Guide to Conflict Minerals and Cobalt Reporting’.

2019 was the first year that Mining the Disclosures introduced an analysis of publicly available information on cobalt due diligence, aimed at encouraging companies to take action and disclose additional information. The report ranks 27 companies on efforts to address child labor and other human rights abuses in their cobalt supply chains. Cobalt is not considered a “conflict mineral”, but there is evidence that the mining of cobalt is contributing to harm, including risks with environmental degradation, safety, human rights, and community impacts.
“While exploring the quality of the due diligence systems in place, the cobalt rating assesses the availability of information and actions taken by companies. The 21 indicators reflect the OECD 5-Step framework and are weighted to highlight the focus on information disclosure, since there is no legislation requiring reporting for cobalt mining.”
“The report analyses a sample group of 27 companies chosen from the three largest industries consuming cobalt. These industries: technology, automotive, and jet engine manufacturing represent the vast majority of cobalt uses for batteries and metal alloys. For the technology sector, due to the broad spectrum of companies using cobalt, a sample of 10 companies was selected based on market cap and recognition by investors and consumers throughout the world.”
The report recommended that companies should follow the lead of others such as Dell Technologies and Microsoft, and adopt a policy covering cobalt sourcing. They should also join multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the RMI cobalt working group, and the Cobalt Institute(CI). It also mentioned Better Mining (Better Sourcing Program and Better Cobalt), the Cobalt Industry Responsible Assessment Framework (CIRAF), and the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, an initiative of the CCCMC.
Companies were considered not to be providing adequate information if they scored below 50 points. RSN states that “The average score for cobalt — 26.4 — demonstrates a corporate risk that is deplorable.”
Alphabet scored 33.4 and therefore lost half a mark under Habitats & Resources, and Human Rights.


Mining the Disclosures 2019 (15 October 2019)

On 5th September 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Google LLC's website for the company's conflict minerals policy. A link to the company’s Conflict Mineral Policy redirected to Google’s parent, Alphabet’s Conflict Minerals Policy.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The minerals in question are Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten and Gold (3TG for short) and are key components of electronic devices, from mobile phones to televisions.

Ethical Consumer expected all companies manufacturing electronics to have a policy on the sourcing of conflict minerals. Such a policy would articulate the company's commitment to conflict-free sourcing of 3TG minerals and a commitment to continue ensuring due diligence on the issue. The policy should also state that it intended to continue sourcing from the DRC region in order to avoid an embargo and that the company had membership of, or gave financial support to, organisations developing the conflict-free industry in the region.

The company's policy outlined its commitment to conflict-free sourcing: "We believe it is essential to establish validated, conflict-free sources of 3TG within the Covered Countries [under the Dodd Frank act] so that these minerals can be procured in a way that contributes to economic growth and development in the regions." This statement also demonstrated the company's commitment to continuing to source 3TG minerals from the DRC region.

This commitment was considered to be an important part of a good conflict minerals policy because to simply avoid sourcing minerals from the DRC region altogether could harm the local economy and cause further problems in the region.

The company also demonstrated a commitment to ongoing due diligence.

The company was found to be a member of Responsible Mineral Initiative; Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade; Responsible Artisanal Gold Solutions Forum.

The conflict minerals policy was included in supplier contracts, and suppliers were required to adopt an equivalent policy. It stated: "Google advises its suppliers to take similar measures with their own sub-suppliers to ensure alignment and traceability throughout the supply chain and back to the smelter. Furthermore, under the Google Supplier Code of Conduct, Google expects its suppliers to perform due diligence on the source and chain of custody of minerals used in the manufacturing of products they supply to Google. Suppliers’ due diligence measures should be available to us upon request."

The company outlined the steps it would take to identify, assess, mitigate and respond to risks within its supply chain in its 2019 Conflict Minerals Report. These were based on OECD guidelines.

The company demonstrated a commitment to only using 3TG minerals from smelters that have been audited and verified as conflict free by the Responsible Mineral Assurance Process. It stated: "We expect our suppliers to source only from certified conflict-free smelters, such as those audited by the Responsible Mineral Initiative’s (RMI--formerly the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative) Responsible Minerals Assurance Process (RMAP), or another third party assessment program."

The company published a list of smelters or refiners (SOR); however, this was considered to be inadequate as it did not include the RMAP status of the smelters

Overall, Google LLC received a best Ethical Consumer rating for Conflict Minerals Policy and Practice and lost no marks under the Human Rights and Habitats & Resources categories in relation to this.