Does Google Fit In Our Future?
I ran an assessment to find out: does the company contribute to—or undermine—the future we want? Here’s what I learned.
What’s this all about?
After twenty years of sustainability consulting, including conducting a lot of materiality assessments where I felt like we were side-stepping the real conversations — e.g., about business models and economic structures that incentivize harm — I launched a project called Matereality. It’s a twist on the materiality assessments done for environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting and strategy, infusing a dose of reality. (See more context here or a 4-minute explainer video here.)
This is an experiment, like an art project, not a client engagement nor a prescription. It’s just me standing back, using the tools I’ve been exposed to and offering up some ideas.
This article outlines what I found out when I conducted a Matereality assessment on Alphabet (aka) Google. The assessment is free to access here, and the findings are summarized below as well as in a 5-minute explainer video, here.
So what happened?
I examined the company’s business model, their ESG-related communications and their four most recent investor earnings calls. I also asked diverse stakeholders how they understand Google in relation to the future they want.
“Does Google belong in the future?”
What I mean by this question is, “Can they create conditions that enable us to live well in a healthy biosphere? And, can they do so without also undermining those very same conditions?” Those are big questions that touch on a range of topics which lots of people have been thinking about and acting on for a long time. I outline details of what’s behind these questions on slide 7 of this methodology deck.
It’s about the business model
In a nutshell, Google sells advertising. It didn’t used to be that way—it started out much more noble and potentially regenerative. But that’s how it is now.