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Hannah Whittaker

August 31, 2011 in News, Sustainability

Google For The Good?

I recently read that Google is now expanding its often controversial ‘Street View’ service into some of the world’s most remote places. Far from the realm of peeping-toms and prying eyes however, the most recent use of the tool is being used for the good.

The camera will photograph and transmit images of the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers of northwest Brazil in partnership with charity Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon (FAS). FAS approached Google two years ago with the plan to digitize high-quality images from the Amazon basin to demonstrate the effects of poor global sustainability efforts and widespread deforestation on the landscape.

As part of the scheme, Google will train local people to collect the images, and will leave behind equipment so the work can continue long-term. After being taken, the pictures will be stitched together so users can explore 360-degree panoramics of the area.

“It is very important to show the world not only the environment and the way of life of the traditional population, but to sensitize the world to the challenges of climate change, deforestation and combating poverty.” Says FAS project leader Gabriel Ribenboim.

Despite the obvious benefits of the scheme, cynics may ask what the substance is behind the style of Google’s well-meaning display. Uncertainty still remains over Google’s environmental policies, as it does not publicly disclose its emissions data in either annual reports or to third parties such as the Carbon Disclosure Project. Further, the firm does not set annual targets for absolute emissions reduction, nor for carbon intensity.

As is evident with this partnership, Google’s sustainability initiatives currently appear in the form of brand enhancement and risk management. Under some future scenarios, however, Google’s sustainability ventures may become extremely valuable. Sustainability has been continually cropping up as the top concern and challenge for companies in recent times, firmly stamping the next decade as one for innovative CSR strategy. PR razzle-dazzle and smokescreens will no longer hide companies from the glare of social media and aggressive competition.

“It is very important to show the world not only the environment and the way of life of the traditional population, but to sensitize the world to the challenges of climate change, deforestation and combating poverty”

All this said and done, the least Google’s scheme can do is improve the quality of life for the local community and enhance awareness. Local resident, Maria do Socorro da Silva Mendonca had never heard of Google, but is excited by the project:

“I think it is wonderful because our community was never published anywhere, nobody knows we are here.”

For Google, though the project represents the biggest challenge for their Street View equipment, it is the perfect opportunity to build a sustainable, high-value future using their existing capabilities, all be it with perhaps a more solid foundation.

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