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Keeping Google Healthy

Interview by Alanna Malone
March 2013

David Bennett joined Google in June 2011 as the Real Estate and Workplace Services Green Team Operations and Innovations Lead. He implements sustainability strategies for the operations and maintenance of existing buildings, and pilots emerging technologies for Google's built office environment.

David Bennett at Google's funky Mountain View headquarters in California.
Photo © Lori Eanes
David Bennett at Google's funky Mountain View headquarters in California.
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GreenSource: What have been the most successful strategies for greening Google’s facilities? 

David Bennett: Our global facilities teams work hard to ensure that Googlers are working in vibrant, healthy, and environmentally efficient spaces. The most successful strategy we’ve found is to build a program that’s actually fun for facility managers and their teams to participate in. We do this through an internal program called Sustainable Pursuit, where teams from around the world compete to earn points through implementing sustainability measures for the built environment. As teams pursue and achieve points, we gather and share an incredible amount of lessons learned. We’ve opened up a new channel for sharing these best practices across teams and regions. Healthy competition and camaraderie among the participants help make this a successful program for us. We’re looking to measure continuous performance of multiple buildings that vary in age, ownership/lease terms, and region. It’s definitely a challenge and we don’t have it completely figured out quite yet, but it’s something we’re working toward, and much is being accomplished along the way.

Why does Google have a policy for screening building products for health?

At Google, we want our workspaces to encourage peak performance and inspire well-being. However, there are more than 80,000 chemicals in the world, and we don’t fully know how they impact our health. The lack of clear and widely available product-ingredient information makes progress in this area challenging. For every product we buy, we send a request to the manufacturer asking them to share comprehensive product-ingredient information. Through our efforts, we’re asking the market to provide transparency about the products they offer and to offer toxin-free alternatives whenever possible. And we’re not the only ones asking these kinds of questions. There’s been some great progress in the industry, and Google recently took a big step to accomplish even more by making a $3 million grant to address the lack of clear and access­ible information on product ingredients. Through the leadership of the U.S. Green Building Council [USGBC], the grant funds will be used to accelerate the develop­ment and adoption of better standards around healthy materials, as well as scientific research to help us understand health impacts.

How will the company continue to be transparent about its building processes and operations?

As we work toward fostering transparency around the health impacts of building materials, it’s important that we walk the talk. We publish information about our green-building practices on Google Green, we present our work at conferences, and we often do interviews such as this where we share our thinking on how we approach building design and operations. Also, I’m thrilled that we are part of USGBC’s Northern California Chapter’s Best Buildings Challenge. This is an initiative that will require a lot of effort to meet some pretty aggressive goals. Our participation is a great opportunity for us to communicate more broadly about our practices, and along the way we’ll be collaborating with other companies based in the region that are working toward achieving similar goals.

Will demand for healthier products drive the market?

Yes, I think it already has, and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. I’m optimistic that we’ll soon see more rapid change, but market transformation won’t be fully realized unless customers ask the types of questions we’re asking and let product manufacturers know that health impact is an important purchasing criterion for them.

What can other companies learn from Google’s Green Team?

I’m just as excited about learning from what other companies are doing as I am about having companies learn from what we are doing here. If I had to pick just one thing, it would be our practice of being guided and driven by values. Focusing on the user is a core value for all of Google. For Real Estate and Workplace Services, that means we emphasize delivering workspaces that are optimized for an extraordinary experience, health, and sustainability. I find that teams are often directed to focus too heavily on metrics. Of course, metrics help measure impact, but what really makes teams move in the right direction is a clear understanding of what’s important and why it’s important to the organization. Having a compelling vision for what you want to achieve and the problems you want to solve is critical. If you create teams of talented, bright, and passionate people and then communicate to those teams what you want them to work toward, they’ll not only achieve their goals but they’ll often go well beyond.


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