Sustainability isn’t a Space to Compete

Working together to make collective progress

Google’s design journey is young. It was ten years ago that Google launched its interface system, Material Design, changing the trajectory of the company’s design culture and impact. Industrial designer Dieter Rams’s ten principles for “Good Design” informed the shift. Good design, to him, is a process developed honestly alongside innovative technologies with care, accuracy, and respect for people and the environment we all share, emphasizing sustainability.

The first Google Chromecast landed in 2013, at the beginning of Google’s changing design culture. A team of product engineers, designers, and supply chain leads collaborated to rethink the materials for the second generation. The result was Google’s first product made with postconsumer recycled plastic. They did this again with the Nest Mini smart speaker, the first smart device made with recycled textiles.

Reducing negative impact on the world quickly became a central value to the design and development teams responsible for Pixel, Fitbit, and Nest devices, all part of the company’s growing hardware portfolio. For design principles, the forms and colors found in nature inspired this work.

It’s a process

Through a series of reflections, investigations, and adaptations, each Google product moves closer to more sustainable solutions. Using this iterative process, Pixel phones are designed with 100% recycled aluminum to reduce their carbon footprint,¹ and plastic will be eliminated from packaging by 2025.

Even the process of developing a sustainability-committed process is iterative. Getting the Nest Mini right took 32 prototypes to validate designs before it was ready. The process delivered an innovative recycled textile and offered scalable innovation lessons transferable into other areas. Turning one success into many is now a standard practice at Google.

Lessons learned include asking more questions at the beginning and looking at the entire context of a product. Where will it sit in space? On bodies? What form or color is appropriate? How can more recycled materials be incorporated? How to reduce waste and pollution? How to keep the product in use for as long as possible?

Making devices last longer to help reduce waste requires a long-term outlook and new approaches. Pixel 8 and 8 Pro were the first devices to provide seven years of software support. Months after this was announced, in 2023, similar commitments were seen across the consumer devices industry. It’s a healthy competition to push the boundaries of how products and supply chains can contribute to a positive future.

Moving forward, together

The US Environmental Protection Agency frames sustainability as creating and maintaining the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony. Devices, companies, people, and environments rely on each other to achieve this, and the hardware industry still has much to learn and far to go. With many Google teams embedding sustainability into their daily work, they will keep innovating, scaling, evolving, and sharing.

Longevity, recycling, using safe materials, reducing waste, conserving energy, and reducing carbon are just a start. The next step forward is working together with other organizations and companies — like sharing chemical hazard assessments with chemFORWARD and making devices more repairable with iFixit. Google’s 2023 Environmental Report outlines how the company is driving positive environmental outcomes throughout many areas so that, together, it’s possible to better transition to resilient, low-carbon approaches that will benefit everyone.

¹ The aluminum in the enclosure of Pixel 5, launched in 2020, was made with 100% recycled content. And the aluminum in the enclosure of all Pixel phones since Pixel 6, including the latest Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, has been made with 100% recycled content, reducing the carbon footprint of the aluminum portion of the enclosures by over 35% compared to 100% primary aluminum. The carbon-footprint-reduction claim is based on third-party-verified life cycle assessment. Recycled aluminum in the enclosures is at least 9% of applicable product based on weight.