A linear economy has a beginning and an end. Companies use materials, turn them into products, transport them to an end user who eventually tosses it in the trash.
In 2017, global demand for resources was approximately 1.7 times what the planet can support in 1 year. This means that under a linear economy model trajectory we will eventually deplete all resources.
A circular economy looks to replenish and restore by design. Products are created to be easily repaired, reused and recycled.
“A strong circular economy begins at the design stage,” explains Chris Adam, Google Supply Chain Manager. “The challenge is to design products and technology with regeneration in mind right from the beginning, without ever sacrificing performance.”
Google’s quest to move towards a circular economy is aimed at finding ways to get more out of every element in its data centres. For this purpose, they have partnered with Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps companies worldwide adopt circular economy practices.
Google powers products like Search, Gmail and YouTube for billions of people 24/7 through their data centres who generally tend to be material intensive.
Google uses servers, drives, routers and other components that, due to massive use and the rapid pace of technological change, use to have a relatively short life span. Every efficiency in that environment has the potential to yield a huge positive impact.
Google has been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to review opportunities to implement circular economy practices throughout Google data centres.
When servers require repairs, parts are replaced with parts taken from previous Google servers if possible which gives hard drives a longer useful life.
More than 22% of the components Google uses for machine upgrades are refurbished inventory.
Google manufactures its own servers with ongoing redevelopments in mind. Motherboard, CPUs, hard drives, etc…) are inspected, and reviewed to conduct alterations that enable the usage of refurbished inventory to conduct upgrades.
Reused upgraded parts are used to redevelop and build new servers which are equivalent in performance to brand new machines.
More than 36% of the servers that Google deploys are remanufactured machines.
REUSE: Google stores components and materials and reviews, how these can be used to develop new servers or upgrade data centres.
Unused components are wiped clean and checked multiple times in preparation for resale on the secondary market. “The circular economy has pushed us to look at more creative ways to find reuse channels. We’ve created better tools and processes that identify reuse opportunities across Google and developed new external resale channels for materials that may have previously been scrapped,” explained Chris Adam.
Over 2.1 million units are resold by Google and productively reused by other organizations around the world.
Google maximizes the recycling of all data centre materials. Google has a multi-step destruction process designed to further ensure that none of the data can ever be accessed.
Google has multiple strategies for recycling. Their commitment to finding new uses for data centre parts and equipment has prevented 86% of materials from going into landfills globally in 2016.
The circular economy initiatives at work in Google data centres are a perfect blend of good for the planet and good for business.
Google is currently the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy.
In addition to practices in its data centres, Google has a long list of initiatives happening around the world — including implementing technology in Google cafés to avoid food waste. and continuing as the
“Our goal is to embed circular economic principles into the fabric of Google’s infrastructure, operations, and culture,” says Kate Brandt, Google’s Lead for Sustainability.