For many of us—maybe even most of us—Google Maps is the go-to solution when we need to get from point A to point B, and certainly when we need to get to some weird point Q we've never seen before. In 2021, the tech giant instituted a new feature to guide users along the most environmentally friendly routes possible. Today, Google estimates that has saved a total of 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
In its latest environmental report, Google says that the total emissions saved from the eco-routing feature are equivalent to the annual emissions from 250,000 ICE-powered cars. This checks out with EPA figures, which suggest that the average passenger motor vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Those savings are thanks to Google Maps users choosing to take the most emissions-friendly route, rather than the fastest one, where available.
The eco-routing tool was first launched in the U.S. and has since been rolled out to Canada, Egypt, and a total of 40 European countries. The routes are generated using machine learning tools, which identify routes that use the least fuel, thus minimizing emissions. It achieves this by avoiding hills and heavy traffic and aiming for travel at more constant speeds.
Soon, drivers will be able to specify their vehicle type in Google Maps—whether diesel, gas, hybrid, or electric. The app will then optimize accordingly, taking into account the strengths of the relevant powertrain. For example, hybrids and electrics are more efficient in low-speed driving, while diesels are most efficient at highway speeds. Google has also added EV-specific features in recent years, helping owners plan routes around charging stations and the like.
It's part of a broader push towards sustainability on Google's part. The company has a long-term goal to halve its 2018 emissions figure by 2030. In 2022, the company emitted more than 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide; it needs to get that number down to 6.8 million metric tons to hit its target.
The eco-routing feature is a nice inclusion from Google. Presently, it relies on drivers choosing to minimize their emissions either by conscience or out of a desire to save fuel. Of course, there's nothing stopping Google from quietly redirecting a broader swathe of drivers to eco-friendly routes in the future. It could be a silent way to further reduce transport emissions without unduly inconveniencing the public.
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