Google: Big tech greenwashing: A failure to deliver on sustainability pledges

Feb 11, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

Nearly every day, it seems another tech company has made another big green pledge; however, according to the nonprofit NewClimate Institute, big tech's promises to deliver on sustainability are not leading to action. Lacking real substance, their claims are misleading, and according to the report, even the companies that are doing "relatively well" are still exaggerating their actions. Thomas Day, the lead author of the new study, said that despite setting out to uncover "as many replicable good practices as possible," the researchers were "surprised and disappointed" at the overall integrity of the companies' claims.

The report gave Amazon's and Google's climate pledges a low integrity and transparency rating, with Amazon's goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 remaining "unsubstantiated." This is despite the fact that Amazon was rated top in PPAs for 2021 in the latest report on PPAs from BloombergNEF. It has a total of 13.9GW of contracted PPA power, meaning it has the 12th largest PPA portfolio globally. 

According to the study conducted in association with Carbon Market Watch, all of the companies in the top 25 that had delivered 100% carbon neutrality pledges were, in fact, only making a 40 percent cut in emissions - this went to as low as 15 percent. Likewise, the report highlighted that while Google claims to have been carbon-neutral since 2007, this claim is based on the procurement of offset to "neutralise" its unabated GHG emissions, but only covered selected emission scopes. The claim omits major scope 3 emissions, which tellingly accounted for at least 60% of its GHG emissions in 2020.

Likewise, although Amazon said that it was "five years ahead" of its goal to power operations with 100% renewable energy, the report criticized the giant for lacking clarity around its targets. Further to this, it stated that the company has failed to outline the extent to which it plans to achieve the target through "delivering actual emission reductions," as opposed to "procuring offset credits."

The report outlined that these companies are falling "well short" of the ambition required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid the most "damaging effects of climate change." In reality, many of these companies are relying on offset credits to meet their goals. For example, the report stated that at least two-thirds rely on carbon dioxide removals from forestry and other biological-related carbon sequestration (nature-based solutions) to claim that their emissions in the future are offset.

Both Amazon and Google have refuted the report's ratings.

The nonprofit warned that these companies' "misleading advertisements" have serious consequences and "real impacts" on both consumers and policymakers. Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer from the nonprofit Carbon Market Watch, said in a statement: "We're fooled into believing that these companies are taking sufficient action when the reality is far from it."

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