Google is adding new ways for users to choose sustainable options when searching, with a suite of new information panels and eco-friendly markers placed directly in search results.
Based on an increase in search interest for terms like "electric vehicles," "solar energy," and "thrift stores," along with the escalating climate crisis, the search engine will now mark used and pre-owned products (like used vehicles and clothing), include additional specs on electric vehicles and comparisons when users shop for cars, and even provide sustainability information for food items in Google recipes.
Google has made similar updates and eco-conscious pledges in the past. In 2020, the company committed to run all of its data centers and campuses on carbon-free energy by 2030. In 2021, the search engine unveiled its first iteration of the new sustainability tools, including information on carbon impact and sustainability initiatives while users book flights and hotels. The site also added additional context to user searches for "climate change," which link to authoritative climate and climate news sources.
"People come to search during the critical moments that matter," said Hema Budaraju, senior director of product for Health & Search Social Impact at Google, in a call with Mashable. "Climate change is the defining call of our generation, and it requires all of us to take actions, big and small. Many people might not know where to start, and people are coming to Google for answers."
For those in the electric vehicle market, Google Search results will display expanded information menus featuring estimated fuel costs, range and charging speeds, and even public charging stations near you that are compatible with each electric vehicle.
Searchers in the U.S. will also see information on federal tax incentives for electric vehicles.
In addition to search results, Google is prioritizing environmentally-friendly options for all vehicle-related needs.
In March 2021, Google unveiled its eco-friendly route option for Maps users, which suggests "cleaner" or more fuel-efficient routes using insights from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the European Environment Agency. The option considers road conditions, topography, and traffic and congestion to lower a driver's carbon emissions along their route. When the eco-friendly route is the fastest, Maps defaults to that option, but when it's not, a user gets to see the potential environmental impact and weigh their options.
According to Google, users have been making the more fuel-efficient choice. The company estimates that having the environmentally friendly choice available reduced vehicle carbon emissions by half a million metric tons since its launch, or the equivalent of taking 100,000 fuel-based cars off the road. The company explained to Mashable that this data only includes users that intentionally chose eco-friendly routes when there was another speedier option.
Building on this, Google Maps users can now choose their engine type when searching for routes to customize an even cleaner route to their destination. These tools are also being made available to companies, like delivery or ride-sharing services, for use in their own apps.
Google Search results will highlight pre-owned or used clothing options when people shop from the Google homepage, which the company says will help empower users to reduce the impact of overconsumption, textile waste, and global carbon emissions created by the fashion industry.
When scrolling through shopping listings, users can spot a small green leaf next to pre-owned resale clothing options.
When users search for certain food recipes, like "vegan curry," “bean recipes,” or “broccoli chicken,” Google Search will also show the environmental impact of various food choices, such as the effect of different protein choices (read: the global impact of that food items' production and transportation) on greenhouse gas emissions.
While responsibility for an unsustainable food (and clothing and vehicle) market certainly doesn't lie with individual consumers, the new Google tools put information in the hands of users who want to know more about the ways they consume, as well as the small choices one can make for more eco-conscious consumption.
The new features will roll out to U.S. users first, in English, followed by a larger global expansion in multiple languages.