If you listened closely two weeks ago, a quiet whir could be heard throughout the Googleplex as the newest and coolest electric vehicles zipped up and down the streets lining campus. Within the span of 3 hours, about 500 Googlers got behind the wheel of a plug-in vehicle, and many more checked out a full range of “cars with cords” on display as part of Thursday’s plug-in vehicle showcase & test drive, our 3rd annual event of its kind.

With Plug In America’s help, we were fortunate enough to have 11 automakers participate in the the Plug In @ Work experience, including Arcimoto, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Smart, Tesla, Toyota, and Zero Motorcycles. By giving our employees the opportunity pop the hood, kick the tires, and drive some of these electric cars and motorcycles, we hope some are inspired to switch out the gas pump for a charging cord.

Google has already joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge, as well as the Calstart EV employer initiative, and providing a time and place for our employees to test these vehicles helps advance this great work. And, our timing aligned perfectly with an amazing plug-in milestone: The 100,000th electric vehicle was sold in the US a few days later!

Google is delighted to bring experiences like this to our employees, and remains an enthusiastic supporter of plug-in vehicles as part of a longer term sustainable transportation solution. We have grown our charging infrastructure to provide Level 2 charging capabilities at over 400 parking spaces across our Mountain View headquarters and 8 other Google locations.

(Cross-posted from the Google Latlong Blog)

In 2008, the Google Earth Outreach team visited the Surui tribe in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest for the first time, upon request of Chief Almir Naramagoya Surui. Their goal was to learn how to share and preserve their culture using Google Maps, Google Earth, and other online tools including Picasa, YouTube, and Blogger. We were honored to play a role in empowering the indigenous people of a region that had been ravaged by illegal logging to tell their stories to millions of people around the world. Filmmaker Denise Zmekhol documented this experience in a video called Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops.

Then, in 2009, Rebecca Moore, head of the Google Earth Outreach team, returned to the Amazon to teach the Surui about Open Data Kit (ODK), a new suite of open-source tools that streamlines the process of data collection in the field with Android phones. Using ODK, the tribe takes pictures of what’s happening on the ground for proof of the illegal logging that is taking place on their territory.

The Surui also began using ODK and Google Earth to visualize the carbon reserves of the forest they live in. This process is part of their 50-year sustainability plan, and serves as a model for how indigenous tribes who have lost much of their ancestral land to logging and deforestation can thrive with the help of a new emerging market based on carbon credits.

Chief Almir, in his joint presentation with Rebecca Moore, celebrated the validation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project on Saturday, May 12th at TEDxBeloHorizonte in Brazil. This is a groundbreaking outcome for the Surui people for two reasons. First, this is the first indigenous-led project in the world to be validated. Equally important, it’s also the first REDD+ project in Brazil to get certified by both the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) to sell stocks in the carbon market, and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Gold Standard to get extra gains from other ‘co-benefits’ of forest preservation, such as increasing biodiversity for a region, or preserving the livelihood of local communities who depend on the forest. The project was validated by Rainforest Alliance and the Brazilian NGO IMAFLORA.

The Surui and their partner IDESAM have already measured a baseline of carbon stored in the indigenous reserve and will avoid the emission of 6 million tons of carbon over the 30 years of the life of the project by avoiding the deforestation of 40 thousand hectares of forests and protecting an additional 200,000 hectares. Coordinated by Forest Trends, the Surui will work with the Brazilian government and those who want to neutralize their emissions to develop financial mechanisms to ensure the forest is protected and well managed, while also assuring the quality of life for the Surui community. The primary financial vehicle has been designed by FUNBIO, a Brazilian NGO specializing in creating financial mechanisms for conservation.

The TEDx talk was made on the heels of another Google Earth Outreach workshop held in Cacoal, Rondonia in May -- this one intended to teach the Surui people how to create a cultural map using Google Earth. Creating a new platform for storytelling online and an interactive repository for shared memories, the Surui students have interviewed their elders to map their ancestral sites, such as the site of first contact with western civilization in 1969, places where the tribes battled with colonists in the 1970s, as well as places of interest, like sightings of jaguars, capybaras and toucans. Once the Surui students have completed the first version of the map, it will be available for all to explore both as a Google Earth KML, powered by Spreadsheet Mapper 3.0, and as a narrated tour in Google Earth.

We are very excited for Chief Almir, the Surui people, and their partners, including ECAM, Amazon Conservation Team, Forest Trends, IDESAM, Kaninde, FUNBIO, among others, who are entering into a new phase of global significance with the validation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project and the Surui Cultural Map.

(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Formaldehyde. Lead. Pesticides. Mercury. If building materials had nutrition labels, would you buy a product containing these toxic ingredients? There are more than 80,000 chemicals in the world, and we don’t fully know how they impact our health. And a surprising number of hazardous chemicals still make their way into everyday products we use, including furniture, paints, carpets and flooring. Whether it’s in the home or office, we shouldn’t have to worry that the chair we’re sitting in or the air we breathe contains harmful chemicals (PDF).

On my first day on the job at Google over six years ago, a co-worker asked me to sniff a carpet sample. I didn’t smell anything and was told, “That’s good!” We want to build a greener future and create the healthiest work environments imaginable for Googlers, which means we only use paints, sealants, adhesives, carpets, furniture and building materials with the lowest levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) possible.

A straw-hut style huddle room made with sustainably forested wood from Pescadero Willow Farm, bound by a saline-based, toxin-free solution

Unfortunately, the lack of clear and widely-available product ingredient information makes progress in this area challenging, so we’re asking the market to provide toxin-free products and make its contents an open book. We put all our products through a rigorous screening process to make sure they meet our healthy materials standards, and request full transparency from our vendors by asking them to share comprehensive product ingredient information.

This movement is also gaining momentum outside of Google. Recently, 30 leading building product manufacturers signed on to pilot the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Open Standard, the industry’s first common reporting standard for transparency around health impacts of building materials. Google is a founding endorser of the HPD, and we applaud these manufacturers for taking this important step. Continued leadership like this is needed for the product transparency revolution to gain real traction—not just for building materials but all types of products we consume or use.

So whether you’re at the restaurant or hardware store, ask tough questions so you can make better-informed choices about products to help keep yourself and your families healthy. Your collective voice and purchasing power can make a huge difference.

As for Google, by setting high standards, asking difficult questions and encouraging transparency from our partners, we hope to show how other organizations can create their own healthy and sustainable work environments.

We’ve made a new $94 million investment in a portfolio of four solar photovoltaic (PV) projects being built by Recurrent Energy near Sacramento, California. This brings our portfolio of clean energy investments to more than $915 million. We’ve already committed to providing funding this year to help more than 10,000 homeowners install solar PV panels on their rooftops. But this investment represents our first investment in the U.S. in larger scale solar PV power plants that generate energy for the grid—instead of on individual rooftops. These projects have a total capacity of 88 MW, equivalent to the electricity consumed by more than 13,000 homes.

Solar panels at one of the Recurrent projects
We’re investing alongside global investment firm KKR and Recurrent Energy, a leading solar developer. Google will provide a $94 million equity investment and SunTap Energy, a new venture formed today by KKR to invest in solar projects in the U.S., will provide the remaining equity. We’re joining KKR on their first renewable energy investment in the U.S. We believe investing in the renewable energy sector makes business sense and hope clean energy projects continue to attract new sources of capital to help the world move towards a more sustainable energy future.

The energy produced by these projects is already contracted for 20 years with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). SMUD recently created a feed-in tariff program (FIT) to help green the grid for Sacramento-area residents. We’re excited that these projects are the first to be built under the program.

 We’ve had a busy year at Google. Since January, we’ve invested more than $880 million in clean energy projects. We believe the world needs a wide range of solutions—from wind, to transmission, to solar PV and concentrated solar—and we look forward to new opportunities next year to further expand our portfolio of clean energy investments.

One of the things I enjoy most about working on Google’s green team is understanding what gets people interested in green topics. One way to uncover that is to look at the most popular searches. This year’s Zeitgeist, released today, highlights the fastest rising searches in 2011 and includes several categories related to the environment.

We could have guessed that solar would be popular, but who knew so many people were searching for backyard chickens and garbage island? I learned a few things, too -- about an earless bunny that created a stir about radiation, and microorganisms that light up Puerto Rico’s famous bioluminescent bay.

To explore top green searches in the US in the Zeitgeist, you can find lists in the Science, Tech & Gadgets, and Quirky categories. The lists include top searches in alternative energy, rare wild animals, hybrid and alternative vehicles, environmental questions, what people are reusing, quirky environmental, waste disposal, and sustainability.

As part of Google Green, we created the Green Scrapbook so you can explore these green trends, choose your favorites, and reveal videos and surprising facts about them. As you click around, you create your very own 2011 Green Scrapbook, which you can personalize with your name on top and share with your friends. Check out the highlights video:

Google continues to create a better web that’s better for the environment. So it’s encouraging to see that 2011 was another year when people were using the web to find information and resources to make greener choices. We hope that the more we understand about garbage islands, the more we’ll choose to use reusable bags. And the more we understand what deforestation is, the more we’ll want to protect the cute red panda. I’m off to make my 2011 Green Scrapbook to help spread the word!

Posted by Erin Carlson Reilly, Google Green Team

Back in 2007, when we decided to be carbon neutral, we knew the basic outline of how to do it, but there were many details to be worked out. Since then we've learned a lot about the nitty gritty details of carbon neutrality and are ready to share some of our knowledge. Our first priority is energy efficiency of our operations: for the last decade we’ve been engineering and building our data centers, machines and software to have the power of a sports car with the fuel economy of a hybrid. Next, we find ways to run our offices and data centers on renewable energy.

For what’s left over, we buy carbon offsets.

It’s my job to manage Google’s carbon offset portfolio, which means finding carbon offsets and making sure they meet our high standards. Since carbon offsets aren’t the most intuitive concept—you can’t pick one up and touch it—it’s worth spending a moment describing what one is.

The anatomy of a carbon offset

A carbon offset represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A developer can create a carbon offset when she builds a project that lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Revenue from the sale of the offset finances the installation of the project. Google decided from the start that we wanted to be sure that the carbon offsets we buy lead to real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. There are lots of different flavors and styles of carbon offsets, so I review each project’s history, documentation and financials to be confident that the project we’re investing in results in greenhouse gas reductions that wouldn’t have happened without our investment. To be sure we’re buying what we think we’re buying, I also visit each site to get my hands dirty—to see the equipment and interview the staff. Finally, a third-party verifier makes sure the project is delivering the reductions claimed.

This video provides a window into how we evaluate projects, showing two examples of the types of projects we buy. The first project is located at the St. Landry Parish landfill in Louisiana. This landfill is a perfect example of how big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can pop up in some out-of-the-way places. (As my little brother likes to say, I am in the business of “dump investigations.”) We then visit a project at a hog farm in North Carolina. Both of these projects reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing and destroying methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

We’re particularly proud of the hog farm project as it represents our new partnership with Duke University. The Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative and its partners built an innovative waste management system at Loyd Ray Farms in Yadkin County, outside of Winston-Salem, NC. The system reduces greenhouse gas emissions, generates electricity, makes for a healthier local environment and benefits farmers and communities economically. Through this pilot, Duke is showing how these projects can make economic sense for North Carolinians and lead to dramatic reductions in emissions over the long term. We hope that technologies like this can scale across the U.S. and the world.

If you want to learn more about how we evaluate carbon offsets and apply them to our carbon footprint, check out this white paper. Today, we believe that high-quality carbon offsets are the best way to eliminate the emissions we can’t yet get rid of through efficiency and renewable energy. We are continuing to search for new and better ways to cancel out our greenhouse gas emissions—with more efficient operations, with more renewable energy and with more reductions from innovative products, projects and technologies.

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

This is the second in a short series of posts and videos spotlighting our efforts to make Google greener. In this post, we give you a glimpse at our sustainable food programs. -Ed.

When it comes to eating sustainably, it’s about more than being organic, grass-fed or cage-free. Through our food program, we delight and support Googlers as well as uphold our company’s health and environmental values. And it’s a job we relish, because food is such a defining part of our unique culture. Our cafes and microkitchens help spark greater innovation and collaboration, allowing different teams to come together to share ideas, problem-solve or just get to know each other better over lunch or a mid-morning snack.

As part of Google’s Food Team, we serve roughly 50,000 healthy and delicious meals every day at nearly 100 cafes around the world—and strive to apply sustainable food principles to all the cafes we operate. We aim to source food that’s as local, seasonal and organic as possible. This helps us prevent artificial additives, pesticides and hormones from entering Google’s food supply—whether that means sourcing our eggs from cage-free chickens or using steroid- and antibiotic-free poultry. It’s fresher, and it tastes better!

Through Google’s Green Seafood Policy, we’ve established guidelines to help ensure that (whenever and wherever possible) we purchase species caught locally from independently managed fisheries that use environmentally responsible catch practices. At our Mountain View headquarters, where we benefit from our proximity to the ocean and local agriculture, we’ve been able to establish close relationships with several local, independent farmers and fishermen. We see firsthand how they raise and harvest their stock, and what sustainable catch methods they use. Much of our Mountain View produce (nearly half of which is organic) comes from farms in California, and our seafood comes from within 200 miles. Many of our campuses also have edible gardens that empower green-thumbed Googlers to grow herbs for their own cooking.

Because optimal eating habits extend beyond the walls of our offices, we’re committed to helping Googlers make the most informed choices possible as part of a healthy lifestyle. We want to not only become the healthiest workforce, but also make it easier for employees to take Google’s sustainable food values home to share with friends and family. Many of our offices in the U.S. offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs where Googlers can buy fresh, seasonal produce directly from local farms that’s delivered right to campus. In Mountain View, we also recently launched the Google Green Grocer program, where Googlers can order the same high-quality, sustainably sourced seafood, meat and eggs they already enjoy in our cafes, while supporting local community fisheries and farms.

We also pay very close attention to how we manage and reduce waste from our food program. Most employees use non-disposable dishware, and all of our grab-and-go containers are compostable. We have recycling and composting bins throughout many of our offices worldwide, and 20 percent of food waste from our cafes is recycled. In fact, organic food waste from our cafes in Europe, the Middle East and Africa is recycled to help produce bio-diesel or electricity. In some of our U.S. offices, any untouched, edible food is donated to local shelters, and the rest is put to use as compost.

Through our our cafes, microkitchens, edible gardens and community-supported food programs, we’re connecting Googlers to sustainable values on a daily basis. The more we care about what happens to the food on our plates and where it comes from, the more it can improve our health, our local economies and the environment.