Google maps’ new green feature

Written by Lauren


The Google Chrome web store recently released a new browser plug-in that allows users to view the carbon emissions associated with driving routes suggested by Google Maps. If you’re a carbon geek, there’s even an option to enter your particular car’s emission factor instead of using the default values.

While the application is still in an early development stage, the creators seem very open to feedback. The plug-in is free, and it’s a great way to visualize your environmental impact on a daily basis. Though the comparative results for different routes are not surprising (shorter is better), the in-your-face reminder of the impact of driving may inspire you to walk, bike, or take public transit instead. Of course, the TerraPass driving calculator is always available if you are interested in seeing your annual impact, fine-tuned to your vehicle.

The developer plans to add public transport calculations soon, which might prove very interesting, if only to provide broad estimates – as Google Maps’ transit mode distinctions are few, using a single emission factor for each mode will necessarily result in estimates which are more “directional” than precise.

The plug-in has other limitations. For instance, it does not reflect the correct carbon emissions of walking or bicycling, which should be zero. Also, the results are listed in grams, whereas annual driving emissions are often provided in thousands of pounds, making it harder to grasp the impact of a daily commute to work.

The plug-in also includes some tips on how to reduce your carbon emissions. We’ll wait patiently for updates to the carbon emissions calculator and mapping service, but in the meantime, we applaud the creators for their efforts.

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  1. Ed

    While walking or bicycling undoubtedly have a lower carbon footprint than motorized transport, the number isn’t zero. It took some sort of fossil fuel energy to make that bike. If we walk or cycle more we’re probably burning more calories than if we drive. If that exercise makes us hungrier, and we buy more food as a result, and some of that food is transported by a long-distance carrier…
    I don’t mean to pick nits here. In my fantasies we’d have communities designed to allow for more walking and cycling – and people would actually do it. But there’s an environmental cost to everything we do. Until we’re decaying in the earth (steel coffins: boo), the number is never zero.

  2. Gary

    While making a bike does require energy and material, making a single occupancy vehicles (SOVs)which include SUVs, or bus requires a tad more material and then there’s the energy to operate it. The national average for SOVs being around 24MPG, a bike rider gets about 800 MPGs if you account for the food as fuel and its standard mode of production and distribution. The other factors are of course maintenance and operating costs: SOVs = aprox $2,600/year compared to bikes =$150/yr. Are there other factors? Well, yes: Infrastructure degradation, water pollution from fluid leaks and brake use. And then finally there is the medical factor. No contest here. The average bike commuter losses 13# of fat the first year, saves considerably on medical expenses and their brains work better too.

  3. Ed

    Hi Gary.
    I agree with you completely. I just wanted to point out that, unless you live in a cave, walk everywhere, wear clothing of hemp, and pick up fruit that falls to the ground, you’re generating carbon.
    I like your term Single Occupancy Vehicle. Really sums up the cause of a lot of our problems.