On its website the company describes its culture: “Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions… We are aggressively inclusive in our hiring, and we favor ability over experience.” Then the website describes the company’s offices around the world, “Bicycles or scooters for efficient travel between meetings; dogs; lava lamps; massage chairs; large inflatable balls. Googlers sharing cubes, yurts and huddle rooms – and very few solo offices. Laptops everywhere – standard issue for mobile coding, email on the go and note-taking. Foosball, pool tables, volleyball courts, assorted video games, pianos, ping pong tables and gyms that offer yoga and dance classes… Healthy lunches and dinners for all staff at a variety of cafes. Break rooms packed with a variety of snacks and drinks to keep Googlers going.”
Conscientiousness is also woven into the company culture, quite intentionally. Free bicycles are scattered around the “Googleplex” headquarters and plug-in hybrid cars are provided, on a shared basis, for short journeys. When not in use, they sit under a carport, charging with solar power. Biodiesel shuttles bring about 1,500 people to work every day, local food is served in the cafeterias, food waste is composted and Google buildings are showcases for green building materials and energy efficiency. Google employees are eligible for special discounts on solar equipment for their homes. People who use human power to commute, “bike, walk, pogo-stick, unicycle,” etc., earn points that Google translates into donations to the employee’s chosen charity.At the California headquarters, 9,000 solar panels produce about 1.6 megawatts of electricity.
Through investments and grants from the company’s nonprofit arm, Google.org, Google is promoting utility-scale renewable energy from solar, wind and geothermal power sources. The company is also providing incentives to car manufacturers who are developing plug-in electric and electric-hybrid vehicles and is working to develop its own Google PowerMeter to track home energy usage.
Of course you don’t power a billion searches a day without burning some electricity. Most of the energy Google consumes isn’t related to commuting employees. Even though they reportedly run data centers very efficiently, consuming about half the power of similar “server farms” owned by other companies, recycling water and equipment and lobbying the industry to do better, a lot of power still goes into the Google servers. Google says each search uses .0003 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. Multiply that by a billion searches a day and you have about 300,000 kWh a day flowing into Google servers, more than 100 million kWh per year, about the same as the entire nation of Cambodia, or Belize, or Rwanda. That’s a lot of juice.
And the Google executive team, in spite of its proletarian wardrobe, doesn’t completely eschew the trappings of great wealth, including aircraft. Founders Brin and Page with CEO Eric Schmidt control a company that owns, at last report, a Boeing 757 airliner, a Boeing 767, two Gulfstream V business jets and, just for fun, a two-seat European fighter plane called a Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet.
Quite rightly Google websites point out that the electricity used by its servers represents a tiny fraction of the energy that would be consumed if all the same information was being distributed to people who drove to libraries or bookstores. And the leaders of giant multinational corporations have legitimate travel needs that can’t be met by the commercial airlines. In comparison with most giant corporations, Google is a highly conscientious institution. The Google executives are responsible citizens who do a lot for people and the planet. They are also billionaires, of course.
And since the days of the ancient Greeks, human societies have understood the code of noblesse oblige. Those who enjoy great privileges bear great responsibilities for making a positive difference in the world.
Journalists criticize Google for devaluing content. Activists want the company to pull out of nations that don’t recognize rights of free speech. Lots of people worry that Google’s technological eyes and ears reach into their homes and invade their privacy.
The more prosperous and powerful the company becomes, the more strident the criticism. Any institution as powerful as Google has great potential for evil, and for good.
Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.
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