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5/11/2009
06:31 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Carbon Footprint Smackdown: One Cheeseburger Equals 15K Google Searches

Ever keen to be seen as green, Google on Monday invited the public to compare the environmental damage caused by searching the Internet with the planetary peril of cheeseburgers, among other things.

Ever keen to be seen as green, Google on Monday invited the public to compare the environmental damage caused by searching the Internet with the planetary peril of cheeseburgers, among other things.In a post on the Official Google Blog, Urs Hölzle, SVP of operations for Google, said that a single Google search uses about 1 kJ of energy and emits about 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide. By way of comparison, he noted that the amount of CO2 emitted from the production of single cheeseburger is 15,000 greater than the C02 arising from a single Google search.

Hölzle offered this handy chart for those eager to judge Google's place on the continuum of environmental sin:

ActivityGoogle Searches
CO2 emissions of an average daily newspaper (PDF) (100% recycled paper) 850
A glass of orange juice1,050
One load of dishes in an EnergyStar dishwasher (PDF)
5,100
A five mile trip in the average U.S. automobile10,000
A cheeseburger15,000
Electricity consumed by the average U.S. household in one month3,100,000

There's a bit of irony in Hölzle's decision to highlight the fact that producing a newspaper requires as much energy as 850 Google searches. Google has been fairly vocal about its desire to save the newspaper industry, but figures like that suggest the planet would be better off without news printed on paper.

But never mind that. The point is that Google does a pretty good job trying to operate efficiently. And why not? Efficiency and profit go hand-in-hand when operating at Google's scale.

The point is also that information and communication technology, or ICT, pay for themselves by eliminating more carbon-intensive activities.

"'Virtual' tools like email, video-conferencing, and search engines replace more carbon-intensive activities like snail mail, business travel, and driving," says Hölzle.

If only Google searches were as satisfying as cheeseburgers.

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