Is Googling Bad For the Environment?

By Nina Bai | January 12, 2009 8:09 pm

googleIs “Don’t Be Evil” Google in fact a sinister pollution-spewing machine? A Sunday Times article cited new research by Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, claiming that every Google search emits 7 grams of CO2, about half the amount released from boiling a kettle of water (15 grams). It portrays Google as “secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint” and refusing to “divulge” the locations of its power-sucking data centers.

There’s more:

When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other.

It may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart. Google’s infrastructure sends you data from whichever produces the answer fastest. The system minimises delays but raises energy consumption. Google has servers in the US, Europe, Japan and China.

The article also implicates other online activities, like Twittering or maintaining an avatar in Second Life (by one estimate, that avatar uses almost as much electricity as the average citizen of Brazil).

Google promptly put out a response on their blog challenging Wissner-Gross’ claims and touting the company’s green credentials. Each search emits a mere 0.2 grams of CO2, says Google.  Besides, isn’t online searching greener than driving to the library?

Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch agrees and offers some perspective:

A single book runs around 2,500 grams of CO2, or more than 350 times a Google search. By some estimates, a single cheeseburger has a carbon footprint of around 3,600 grams—over 500 times larger than a Google search.

Kincaid also points out a potential conflict of interest: Turns out, Wissner-Gross is co-founder of (which the Times mentions in passing), a for-profit company that calculates and purchases “energy certificates” for energy-conscious websites (which the Times neglects to mention).

Related Content:
Discoblog: Artist Pollutes to Criticize Carbon Offsets
DISCOVER: Carbon Trading: Environmental Godsend or Giant Shell Game?
DISCOVER: Counting Carbons

Image: flickr / Mykl Roventine

  • Uncle Al

    Google runs 200 million searches/day for a claimed contingent 511,000 tonnes of CO2/year. Anthropogenic CO2 emissions sum to 28 billion metric tonnes/year. Google devastates Earth with a 0.0018% increment, worst case. (Does hydroelectric power emit 7 g CO2/search? “Project 02”) We demand the Google Algaeic Fuel Fix (GAFF).
    The Carbon Tax on Everything, philosophized.

  • scienceweblog

    haha,It is interesting!

  • jf

    Wissner-Gross, says he never mentions Google in the study:

  • Jen Hawse

    An alternative to google, This color swapped black on white text google powered search engine uses less power on your computers side of things, even if it pulls from the same few thousand servers.

  • Elizabeth, V.

    It is true that the google searches start to add up but what can we really do about it?? People rely on google troughtout the world.

  • scienceTASTIC

    “Besides, isn’t online searching greener than driving to the library?” True, but if there was no internet I would never drive to the library to find out the name of that rollerblading movie in the 90’s with Seth Green and Jack Black. (So you can sleep tonight… it’s Airborne.)

  • Miriam Gordon

    Thank you for this article, its very interesting. I’m glad to see the scientific community being continually conscious about their CO2 footprints – it’s important to keep reminding ourselves, it’s the only way we as a global community will change our energy consumption ways.

    I’m not completely sure that any mega-corporation can completely circumvent evil…

    I really love the image at the header of this post and would like to use it. Would it be possible to get back to me and let me know what the copyright status is? Thanks very much.

  • Luke

    Ugh. Shut up you stupid hippies. You hurt progress, you lie, you distort. SHUT UP.

    Just for this, I’m googling “environment sucks” 100 times.

  • Kory Sandell

    Of course, what a splendid website and illuminating posts, I surely will bookmark your website.All the Best!


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