Environment Projects

Interactive tool shows how small changes can make a big impact

December 2019
Interactive tool shows how small changes can make a big impact

Small daily choices—like taking shorter showers or washing clothes with cold water—can have a big impact on our planet. Simply reducing daily showers from 10 minutes to 5 can save 4,563 gallons of water per year—enough to fill 16 hot tubs. And, assuming 300 to 390 loads of laundry per year, turning the dial from hot to cold saves the annual carbon dioxide equivalent of 15 hours behind the wheel of a car.

These are just a few of the tips available on Your Plan, Your Planet, an interactive tool from Google that makes it easy to understand your environmental impact and learn simple, science-based ways to reduce it. Developed in partnership with the California Academy of Sciences and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Your Plan, Your Planet empowers individuals to take action and discover more about the circular economy, while making the learning process fun.

Launched in September 2018, Your Plan, Your Planet focuses on four pillars: food, water, energy, and the newest addition—stuff. Food, because agriculture accounts for nearly a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions.1 Water, because the United Nations predicts that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population could live in water-stressed conditions.2 Energy, because electricity accounts for 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.3 And stuff, because we consume, use, and waste a lot of it. For example, every second, enough clothing to fill one garbage truck is burned or landfilled. The stuff pillar helps educate site visitors about the importance of extending the life of the things we own.

Exploring each pillar leads users through an informative, gamelike experience where they learn facts, collect tips, and make pledges. They can discover that leak-free households can save up to 10% on water bills each year and then see how to fix water leaks themselves. Or they can arrange food on a virtual countertop or in a refrigerator or freezer to find out how long each item lasts when stored properly. As they explore, users can pledge to change one or more behaviors.

Animation showing the interactivity of the water pillar on Your Plan, Your Planet
The water pillar includes toggles and brief quizzes that teach people how to save water.

“We designed the tool to be fun and engaging in the moment but also included features like a dashboard, so users can track how many tips they’ve collected and pledges they’ve made,” says Tiara Batle, Google’s brand marketing manager for sustainability. In October 2018, Your Plan, Your Planet received the Favorite Website Award of the month.

The tool even syncs with Google Calendar so that users can set reminders to stay on track with their pledges. For example, they can set reminders to eat or freeze their leftovers in three days or to buy a water-smart shower head. Users can also print tips to post on fridges and bulletin boards.

Making great thinking accessible

The California Academy of Sciences was a natural collaborator for Your Plan, Your Planet because it had done much of the groundwork in its program Planet Vision. “They had identified food, water, and energy as the most important areas for impact,” says Batle. “The way they broke down the information, organized it, and delivered super-simple tips is what attracted us to them.”

Demystifying the information was key, says Elizabeth Bagley, director of sustainability for the California Academy of Sciences. “We created hands-on activities to make invisible concepts—like the carbon footprint of different foods—tangible and actionable,” she says.

Google’s collaboration helped amplify the impact. “Partnering with Google allowed us to scale these messages to a global audience,” Bagley says. “We worked together to make the actions fun, easy, and hopeful so people are inspired to join a global movement of sustainability solution seekers.”

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading proponent of the circular economy, advised on the content for the stuff pillar, which launched on Earth Day 2019.

“One of the things we saw with Your Plan, Your Planet was how powerful these meaningful partnerships can be,” says Miles Johnson, Google brand strategist. “Working with the California Academy of Sciences and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation gave us the credibility and scientific rigor to offer individual advice in these areas, and we also learned a lot from them about how to present complex topics in fun and engaging ways.”

From the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s perspective, working with Google presented a great opportunity to spread the word about circular economy principles. “Global business plays a key role in moving from a linear to a circular economy, and we’ve been working with Google for years to accelerate this transition,” says Gail Willows, engagement lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “Interactive digital tools like Your Plan, Your Planet make the topic more accessible to millions.”

Crucially, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation helped pinpoint fashion as the easiest type of “stuff” for consumers to act on. “Fashion is a fantastic way to open people’s eyes to the role they can play in circular economy solutions,” says Dale Walker, program manager at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “It helps people explore the industry’s fast-growing business models and the choices these models create for us as customers every day.”

Most people understand that mending or giving away old clothes is a more environmentally responsible choice than throwing them away. What they might not know is that clothing production has roughly doubled in the past 15 years—much of it low quality—resulting in people keeping their clothing about half as long. Each year, the clothing industry produces 100 billion garments, or 14 pieces of clothing for every person on Earth.

Animation showing the interactivity of the stuff pillar on Your Plan, Your Planet
In the stuff pillar, users learn how to participate in the circular economy by mending, donating, or upcycling clothing, furniture, and other everyday items.

Your Plan, Your Planet is one of the first Google sustainability tools focused on empowering individual consumers to take action. “Through research, we found that there are a lot of environmentally conscious consumers who are overwhelmed by information—they just have no idea where to start,” Batle says. “We were in a unique position to highlight that information and make it accessible, so we started focusing on the small changes people can make every day.”

Facts that inspire change

Many of the tips on Your Plan, Your Planet are intuitive, but others are surprising. Washing dishes by hand might seem more environmentally responsible, but dishwashers use one-half the energy and one-third the water of handwashing. Keeping food in the right places in the kitchen could save as much as two-thirds of the food that is normally thrown out. For example, storing tomatoes on the counter away from direct sunlight keeps them fresher because the refrigeration process causes issues with texture and taste.

Other tips reveal sobering facts. In fashion, roughly $460 billion in usable clothing is thrown out each year. Instead of discarding clothes, Your Plan, Your Planet recommends mending tears, renting clothes for occasions like weddings or proms, donating pieces that no longer fit, or even upcycling unwanted items into something new.

And some tips are so simple you can’t believe they’re not already part of your routine. “Like unplugging your TV when you’re not using it,” Batle says. “It only takes a second, but over a year, it saves the carbon dioxide equivalent of driving a car for two and a half hours.”

By the end of 2019, the site had documented more than 300,000 pledges to change one or more behaviors. The top three were: taking shorter showers, using the dishwasher, and storing leftovers in the fridge. Hundreds of thousands more have visited the site but not made any pledges.

To amplify the tool’s impact, we’ve also partnered with award-winning nonprofit Science Buddies to develop lesson plans that use Your Plan, Your Planet—one for fifth grade and another for grades six through eight.

“We love to see Your Plan, Your Planet being used in classrooms around the country and the world,” says Jill Puente, Google’s brand marketing manager and sustainability marketing lead. “When it comes to the future of Your Plan, Your Planet, we’re excited to keep focusing on education, teachers, and educators.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference—and everything starts with a single action.

Hero image shows attendees exploring the interactive Your Plan, Your Planet tool at Google’s booth at the 2018 Greentech Festival in Berlin, Germany.

1 “Sector Summary: Food, Agriculture, and Land Use,” Project Drawdown, https://www.drawdown.org/sectors/food-agriculture-land-use.

2 “International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005–2015,” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, accessed 2016, https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml.

3 “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, accessed August 19, 2019, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.