A handful of new tools from the search giant make it easier than ever to make sustainable travel choices.
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In a world filled with greenwashing, it is not easy to make green decisions while traveling. But Google wants to change all that by harnessing its formidable powers of data aggregation to make travel sustainable, well, more Googleable.
On October 6, the search giant announced a slew of new features in its various travel tools that will allow users to make greener travel decisions, ranging from the flights they take and the hotels they stay at to their land transport. The company says this effort is a response to the changing priorities of travelers, who are more aware than ever that tourism represents up to 8 percent global greenhouse gas emissions.
A Booking.com survey report last summer showed that 83% of travelers believe sustainable travel is essential, while 61% said the pandemic had motivated them to travel more sustainably. Meanwhile, the total number of Google searches for “green hotel” has doubled over the past decade, according to James Byers, Google’s product management manager for consumer flights and travel sustainability.
“As travel returns from the decline we experienced during the pandemic, we are seeing more thoughtful travelers thinking more carefully about where they are going and the imprint of their own trip,” said Byers.
These initiatives also align with a company-wide sustainability effort at Google led by CEO Sundar Pichai. In 2020, Google became the first big company to commit to operating solely on carbon-free energy by 2030, and the company has already reached 67% of its target in all of its data centers.
In the travel and sustainability arena, a team of engineers, designers and researchers at Google led by Byers are now specifically dedicated to developing travel features that put the power of green decisions in the hands of the user. . Find out how you can use these tools to make more responsible travel decisions on your next trip.
Reduce your carbon emissions in flight
Carbon emissions data first appeared on the Google Flights search engine in 2020 in a handful of European markets – buried under the “details” section of a flight – and it has been deployed to destinations in the world last summer. But as of October 6, flight search results on Google Travel now include carbon emissions estimates to a prominent place alongside other key factors such as price and duration on mobile and desktop. Travelers can even view seat-specific estimates, which appear on color-coded maps that show the differences in emissions between seat classes (a first-class seat has significantly higher emissions than a coach seat). , mainly because it takes up several times more space).
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The emission estimates were created using sources such as European Environment Agency and real-time airline data, as well as information on aircraft type and age, distance flown and number of seats in each class. Flights can now be sorted by their carbon emissions, and most come with a percentage that measures how much higher or lower their emissions rate is on average for that particular route. Flight options with below average carbon emissions are marked with a green badge.
In a recent search between Seattle and New York ranked by emissions, the highest result showed emissions 20% lower on average for that route, or 395 kg, while a similar nonstop flight for the same price showed 20% more emissions on average, or 589 kilograms. In Europe, where train travel is common, a search between London and Paris identified train routes alongside flights, a feature offered by Google Flights since 2015. It showed that taking the high-speed train Eurostar would reduce emissions by 72% on average. than a flight and would only take an hour longer, roughly the same travel time if you factor in the airline’s check-in process.
Even at the start of A / B testing, travelers began to choose more sustainable flights due to the more visible display of carbon emissions, which Byers said was the overall goal of the update. And, it turns out that the more sustainable choice rarely increases the cost of a trip. “There is very often a more sustainable option among lower cost flights to a given destination,” Byers said, citing a study last summer which have revealed routes with mostly lower emissions do not increase costs for consumers. “It means you don’t necessarily have to do a trade where you pay more.”
Google’s long-term goal is to share its emissions estimates as widely as possible. In September, the research titan joined Travalyst, Prince Harry’s coalition has focused on travel sustainability and is helping the nonprofit group standardize air travel emissions calculations as an open model that can be used by anyone, including partners coalition such as Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, Visa and Booking.com.
Drive or cycle in a more sustainable way
According to International Energy Agency75% of transportation emissions come from on-road vehicles, and Google Maps has created ways for travelers to make route decisions that are more environmentally friendly. The navigation tool launched a new feature in the United States, in partnership with the United States Department of Energy National Laboratory of Renewable Energies, which now defaults to the fastest route with the lowest carbon emissions, with plans to launch in Europe in 2022.
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The new routes, which Google estimates could save more than a million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, take into account factors such as congestion, road slope and traffic projections. powered by AI. When a more fuel-efficient route is significantly longer than the fastest, Google Maps will allow users to choose whether they want to prioritize travel time or emissions.
Google Maps tackles other modes of land transportation, too much. The company has seen a 98% increase in cycle route use over the past year around the world and has partnered with scooter and bike-sharing companies such as Bird and Stage to expand carpooling data in more than 300 cities around the world, from New York to Taipei. The information in the Google Maps app now includes more pick-up station locations and real-time data on vehicle availability and parking spaces.
A new “light navigation” in the application as welll — currently available to Android users, and rolled out to iOS users in the coming months — will help cyclists reduce their gaze on their phones by showing key details of their route on their home screen, including route progress and elevation changes, without having to wake up their screen or enter navigation step by step.
And in the not-so-distant future, Google also hopes to reduce the pain – and environmental footprint – of poorly timed traffic lights, which can lead to idling cars that lead to wasted fuel and more air pollution. . In partnership with several municipalities and the National Roads Company of Israel, an internal team is testing ways in which Google’s artificial intelligence technology can make traffic lights more efficient in four locations in Israel; so far, it has seen a reduction of up to 20 percent in fuel consumption and delays at intersections.
Find a truly sustainable hotel
Since September, users can more easily identify sustainable hotels on Google’s hotel search tool. Properties with certified sustainable practices now have an ‘Eco-Certified’ label with a leaf icon next to their name, and users who want more details on environmentally friendly practices, such as waste reduction and energy efficiency, can find information in the “About” tab. The certifications, which hotels must update themselves, come from 29 independent third-party organizations, including EarthCheck, Green key, LEED, and Green Globe– all approved by the World Sustainable Tourism Council.
“We selected certifications that require on-site audits, where someone actually goes and reviews the property in question,” says Byers.
A recent search for hotels in San Francisco using the filter “less than $ 150” found the Hilton San Francisco Financial District for $ 139, and clicking on the green leaf icon, a page has featured on the hotel’s soap donation program, food waste reduction program, and on-site electric vehicle charging stations, among other eco-responsible features.
Soon, users will be able to sort hotels by green attributes, in direct response to consumer priorities, according to Byers.
“We are delighted to signal the airline industry, our non-profit partners, including Travalyst, and the aircraft manufacturers who [sustainability] matters to our travelers, ”he said.
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