Google can be the most enlightened power-user on the planet. Because it is so successful, and because it uses a lot of electricity, Google has the opportunity to set a new global standardfor clean power. The company already makes a noticeable contribution to clean energy through its efficient computers, the headquarters’ solar array, its dedication to electric and electric-hybrid transportation and its research projects. Google is studying utility-scale renewable electricity, plug-in vehicles and smart metering for businesses and households.
True to Google’s engineering culture, the company’s contributions so far are relentlessly practical, made with an eye to efficiency.
What if Google set a new standard of consuming electricity for its operations worldwide only from renewable sources?
Imagine a thousand server farms bristling with photovoltaic panels and wind turbines. It would cost something, but Google can afford it. It might not be practical or repeatable for the majority of companies today, but imagine the ripples of influence the new standard might send out across businesses around the world. Imagine utilities vying for Google’s patronage with their own renewable-energy solutions in every country where a Google computer is plugged in.
Imagine competitors scrambling to do the same thing when conscientious computer users focus their activities on the Google sites.
Google’s commitment would set a new standard that could catalyze a drive for more contagious and abundant power everywhere.
Goals: Beauty, abundance and contagiousness.
Amp up the charitable giving. Google is many orders of magnitude more successful than the average company, but its charitable giving is below average. Google commits to giving away 1 percent of its profits. The average company gives away 1.2 percent. Why not commit to at least meeting the average? Or, better yet, why not match the 1.8-percent average for individual U.S. taxpayers? While they’re at it, why not make it an even 2 percent for simplicity’s sake?
Because Google is so visible, a commitment like that could increase corporate giving everywhere.
Goals: Abundance and fairness.
Play Favorites. Google is justifiably proud of its search engine’s impartial results, refined to deliver the most useful and efficient information. But the company that handles more information than any other entity in the world is in a unique position to support the causes judged most worthy, either by Google employees or Google users. Google could create a partition within its search engine for the sites that it determines do the most good in the world. In the way Google Health helps users organize their medical records or Google Finance provides special money-management tools, Google Good could promote tools for people who want to give their money away based on the best available information about charities. It could also provide useful information for job seekers in search of especially meaningful work in mission-driven organizations.
Goals: Beauty, abundance, fairness and contagiousness.
Maintain the pressure. In March 2010 Google began redirecting all Google China’s traffic to its servers in Hong Kong, allowing uncensored search results to appear on the screens of its hundreds of millions of Chinese users. China censors pornography and content it judges likely to foment social unrest and Google initially submitted to that censorship. Google searches explicitly stated on the screen that the search results had been censored. However, when Chinese human-rights activists had their Google Gmail accounts hacked – and it appeared that the Chinese government was the most likely perpetrator – Google retaliated.
In 2010 the world’s largest search engine bypassed the censors by re-routing searches to Hong Kong, a special jurisdiction where Chinese laws are more liberal.
Google walks a fine line in China and in other countries where information is aggressively censored or where governments want information about Google users. In April 2010 the company published a new “transparency” tool on its website designed to identify countries that either ask Google to remove certain content or request access to user data. China considers its censorship practices a state secret – it’s the only country listed that does that – so the site doesn’t report much of anything about how China limits its citizens’ access to Internet content. Brazil submitted more “removal requests” than any other country. Germany, India and the United States were in second, third and fourth place at the time of this writing. Brazil also requested more data on Google users than any other country, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom, India and France.
So far Google’s “transparency” doesn’t report where countries are simply blocking content. Those countries obviously don’t need to request the removal of content. The website reports that Google is working on a tool to show where content is blocked.
With access to unprecedented amounts of information, Google can have an unprecedented impact on public knowledge. If you believe that the access to knowledge is important to creating and maintaining democratic societies, then Google is in a unique position to push for open access to information. Or to provide tools that give access in spite of censorship.