Google makes Earth Engine imaging public as it prepares to unveil carbon footprint tool

Carbon Footprint for Google Workspace will be made available in 2023 to help users measure, report and reduce emissions on Google services

Google will launch a new carbon footprint tool for its portfolio of apps in 2023. AFP
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Google's Earth Engine imaging service is now available for use in the sustainability initiatives of enterprises as it prepares to launch a carbon footprint tracker for its portfolio of applications next year.

Earth Engine, a geospatial image viewer launched in 2010 and previously only made available to scientists and NGOs, combines high-resolution photos and associated data and helps companies to assess how their operations affect the environment.

Meanwhile, Carbon Footprint for Google Workspace will be made available in 2023 to help users to measure, report and reduce emissions on Alphabet-owned Google services such as Gmail, Docs and Meet, the world's biggest internet company said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“The path to a sustainable future begins with the small decisions we make every day. But industries, governments and corporations are challenged to make these decisions without the right data or insights to inform them,” Justin Keeble, managing director of global sustainability at Google Cloud, wrote in the blog.

“Even a small choice for an organisation — [for example,] which raw material to choose for a new product, when to proactively water crops ahead of a drought, which green funds to invest in — requires understanding unique and often complex information.”

Digital technology can play a key role in helping other sectors to decarbonise.

Such technology, if scaled up across industries, could deliver up to 20 per cent of the 2050 reduction needed to hit the International Energy Agency's net zero trajectories in the energy, materials and mobility industries, a joint study by the World Economic Forum and professional services company Accenture revealed.

These industries can already reduce emissions by 4 per cent to 10 per cent through the rapid adoption of digital technology, it said.

While not as significant as energy, transport and other industries, the technology sector also contributes to carbon emissions globally.

A digital carbon footprint is measured by the emissions resulting from the production, use and data transfer of digital devices and infrastructure, according to French IT consultancy Capgemini.

Global email usage generates as much carbon dioxide as having seven million extra cars on the road, a 2020 study by the BBC's Science Focus found.

Minimising email use can have a substantial impact: for example, if each email user in the UK sent one less email a day, 16,433 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced, which is the equivalent of 81,152 flights from London to Madrid, it said.

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Google's Earth Engine has one of the largest publicly available data catalogues and a global data archive that covers the past 50 years and is updated every 15 minutes.

The service can detect trends and understand correlations between human activities and the corresponding environmental impact “more precisely than ever before”, Google said.

This can serve as an important tool for organisations advancing their sustainability initiatives as the world races to fight off the effects of climate change.

At least a fifth of the world's largest public companies have committed to net zero targets, with the private sector at the forefront, the WEF said.

“Everyone wants to better understand how to become more sustainable and take actions that have a meaningful impact. Businesses and individuals alike are wondering how to turn sustainability ambition into action,” Mr Keeble said.

The coming Carbon Footprint for Google Workspace service will also have a tool designed to help non-technical users access emissions data, which they can use for tracking or in disclosures.

“Tools like Carbon Footprint allow our engineers to understand the carbon impact of our technology decisions and ensure we continue to 'architect' a fast, resilient and low-carbon commerce solution,” said Stacy Kauk, head of sustainability at e-commerce platform Shopify.

Updated: June 28, 2022, 10:51 AM