Once again, employees urge Google not to harm the environment

Google activists reiterate their concern that the tech giant is failing to face up to its climate responsibilities.

Google goes completely green to tackle climate change Google will operate 100 percent on renewable energy by 2017, making it the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy.

Google workers are again trying to hold their employer to account on climate change, this time in an open letter calling for greater action

Addressed to the company's chief financial officer Ruth Porat, this week's letter – signed by 1,137 Google activists – stresses the "gravity and urgency" of the global climate crisis and asks for "a company-wide climate plan".

It calls for similar targets to the ones activists laid out in an announcement last September that Google workers would be participating in the Global Climate Strike, which coincided with the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

The Google activists set out their objectives around four zeros: zero emissions by 2030, zero contracts for fossil fuel companies that accelerate oil and gas extraction, zero funding for climate denying organizations, and zero harm to climate refugees.

Shortly after September's protest, Porat responded in a blogpost detailing "Google's longstanding and ongoing investments in sustainability". She highlighted that the company has been carbon-neutral since 2007, and since 2018 has matched every unit of energy it consumes with an equivalent unit from renewable sources.

She also pointed to a recent deal which increased Google's portfolio of wind and solar agreements by 40% to 5,500MW. "Our work to support renewable energy remains a huge focus for us," she said.

Her arguments didn't convince the company's climate activists, who have come back this week with exactly the same demands as the ones they had before the strike.  

Since September, it has been revealed that Google had made substantial contributions to some notorious climate deniers in Washington. A dozen of the organizations listed as beneficiaries of political sponsorship on the company's website have campaigned against climate legislation.

One of them is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has been a critic of the White House for not dismantling more environmental rules. Google said those collaborations did not mean that it endorses the organizations' "entire agenda".

Another concern put forward by employees is the company's involvement with fossil fuel companies. Only last May, Google signed a deal with petrotechnical giant Schlumberger, whose workloads now run on Google Cloud to "accelerate oil and gas discovery". 

Last year the tech giant also signed a contract with energy company Total to put its AI technology at the service of oil and gas production

"These programs will allow Total's geologists, geophysicists, reservoir and geo-information engineers to explore and assess oil and gas fields faster and more effectively," said Total.

Google is not the only technology being dragged under the climate spotlight by its own employees. In their call for participation to the Global Climate Strike in September, the company's workers were also joining activists from Amazon and Microsoft.

Activists from all three companies, in fact, have said they are standing with each other and are pushing for similar demands. They were initially spearheaded by Amazon employees' open letter to Jeff Bezos last April, which was signed by 8,695 workers

Microsoft workers wrote their own call "for climate justice" following their employer's announcement that it was collaborating with Schlumberger last September, in a parallel with Google's own deal.

"Microsoft makes millions of dollars in profits by helping fossil fuel companies extract more oil," said the employees' statement. "As Microsoft workers, we've been made complicit." 

Last year, Google abandoned a deal it was negotiating with the US Pentagon because of widespread employee protest at the prospect of their work potentially being used to kill people. 

After 4,000 employees petitioned and a dozen workers quit, the company withdrew its offer to the government, giving Google's climate activists hope that their open letter might make a difference.