Demand for expensive phones might be slowing, but consumerism as a whole continues. In the wake of our collective and unceasing desire for more, better, cheaper, Google is the latest company to stand up on a sustainability soapbox, announcing its intention to better the environmental impact of its “Made by Google” products. In a series of vague and easily met goals, the company wants to ensure that 100% of its hardware include recycled materials by 2022, with 100% of shipments being carbon neutral by next year.
Neither of these commitments aims too high, though Google isn’t too specific or verbose about the details. For example, when Google says that “100% of device orders shipping to and from Google customers will be carbon neutral by 2020,” Google doesn’t quite define what it means by “shipments” or if that claim extends beyond shipping/fulfillment to include the product itself.
When it comes to shipping, Google usually chooses FedEx to fulfill orders and RMAs here in the ‘states, and FedEx has some of its own environmental goals set for 2020, which could help Google with its desire for carbon-neutral deliveries. But essentially, any benefits in shipping/fulfillment (assuming that’s what Google means) would be a result of actions taken by shipping companies, not Google. Fast Company was told by Google that part of this improvement will come from a change in shipping methods earlier in the supply chain and separate from fulfillment (40% gains from using boats vs. planes), but Google could be a lot more clear in its own marketing, here.
Ensuring that 100% of all Made by Google products include recycled materials should be another walk in the easily-marketed park, since Google imposes no requirement for what sort of components or percentages need to be made of recycled materials. Google simply claims it will “maximize recycled content wherever possible,” but if it isn’t committing to any firm goals, that’s a pointless promise. “Possible” is such a flexible and weaselly word subject to interpretation and economic viability, it may as well not be a commitment.
According to Fast Company, an upcoming Google product will “reuse a third of a plastic bottle” in the fabric of its design, but Google itself hasn’t placed any firm numbers on its own claims or self-imposed requirements regarding any products.
Google’s final bulleted “commitment” is the vaguest of all. The list ends with: “And we will make technology that puts people first and expands access to the benefits of technology.” While it’s good that the company wants to reiterate how its products can genuinely improve lives through technology, it isn’t really committing to anything with that statement.
Earlier this year, Samsung actually committed itself to more defined and firm goals, opting only to use fiber materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in packaging and manuals, with specific numbers set for recycled material use in the far-off year 2030. Less numerically defined but quite still specific plans included switching to pulp mold trays and recycled/bio-plastics in packaging starting this year.
When it comes to marketing its sustainability moves, Google should probably make much more firm and specific commitments. As it stands, today’s announcement reads more like a handful of token, low-effort marketing points. The company clearly cares about improving the environmental impact of its hardware products, but it needs to make and express more clear and concrete goals.