This Wednesday, Google launched a new feature that displays a carbon emissions estimate for nearly every flight in its search results next to the price and duration of the flight.
It’ll allow eco-conscious travelers to factor carbon emissions into their choice when deciding which flight to book.
These emissions estimates are flight-specific as well as seat-specific. For instance, newer aircraft generally pollute less than older aircraft, and emissions increase for premium economy and first-class seats because they take up more space and account for a larger share of total emissions, according to Richard Holden, Google’s vice president of travel products in a blog post.
To put these estimates in context, flights with significantly lower emissions will be labeled with a green badge. If users want to prioritize carbon impact, they can sort all of the results to bring the greenest flights to the top of the list.
Google launched a new feature that displays a carbon emissions estimate for nearly every flight in its search results right next to the price and duration of the flight.
Choosing more eco-friendly prices doesn’t always mean consumers will need to empty their wallets. A study from the International Council on Clean Transportation this summer found “choosing less-emitting itineraries likely should not increase costs for consumers.”
To calculate these estimates, Google is combining data from the European Environmental Agency with the flight-specific information it gets from airlines and other providers such as aircraft type, trip distance and the number of seats in each seating class.
Partners in this initiative include domestic companies like American Airlines and international ones like German airline Lufthansa.
“Both Google and Lufthansa Group have set sustainability high on the agenda, and we believe that transparency is key for creating trust in that matter,” says Annette Mann, senior vice president for corporate responsibility at Lufthansa. “Based on that transparency, customers also have the possibility to go fully carbon neutral when flying with Lufthansa Group by choosing sustainable aviation fuels or high-quality offsets.”
Google is also partnering with Travalyst, a sustainable tourism nonprofit, to develop an open model for calculating carbon emissions from air travel that can be used across the travel industry as a gold standard.
The business value of sustainable travel initiatives
Sustainable travel isn’t only core to Google – it’s become increasingly important for its billions of users too, according to James Byers, senior product manager of Google Flights.
“We’ve seen a steady, consistent increase in searches for more sustainable travel for a long time, in fact, since 2004,” says Byers. “What we’re finding is that this is top of mind for lots of travelers, especially as habits change, and especially as we see more awareness of the effects of climate change.”
Habits towards travel and the role that consumers play in the travel ecosystem have likely changed due to the pandemic. A survey released this summer from Booking.com found “83% of global travelers think sustainable travel is vital, with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.”
Google’s aerospace partners are feeling this shift as well.
“Customers are making sustainability a priority when it comes to travel, and so are we,” says Jill Blickstein, managing director of environmental, social and governance for American Airlines. “We believe travelers will see the results of those efforts over time as we work to reduce our emissions and progress on our journey to net zero.”
Last month, Google pushed a new feature for travelers to find eco-certified hotels easily on its search platform.
During a Google search for hotels, results now have a tag that says “Eco-certified” next to a green leaf, and a “Sustainability” tab shows what sustainable practices the hotel employs and what certifications it has received.
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These steps are just the first in Google’s push toward sustainability in travel, and there’s more to come in the future, according to Byers.
Byers h.ints that Google’s sustainable travel team is looking into “other modes of transportation as we think about how travelers get around holistically.”
Google may also tweak its search experience to make eco-certified places surface earlier for travelers looking for sustainable options, says Byers.
According to Byers, the idea emerged from Google’s 20% project, which allows employees to dedicate 80% of their time to managing their regular work and 20% to creative side projects. The 20% project was launched by Google in 2004 while founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were in charge of the company.