All my life, I thought there was just one way to get to my hometown’s ShopRite: right on Fair Street, right on Gleneida Avenue, right into the parking lot. That was until I plugged ShopRite into Google Maps. Now I had two options. I could turn right into the parking lot in front of the grocery store or, if I felt compelled, enter closer to Gold’s Gym and cut across the asphalt sea. Either route would take four minutes, the app said, but the latter earned the Google Maps eco-mode seal of approval: a little green leaf. A blurb informed me that I would save 6 percent gas by turning into the lot before, rather than after, the spot where my mom takes Bodypump classes. I could do my part to save the world.
It’s been two years since Google announced its Maps eco-routing feature. For all trips by car in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe, the app defaults to recommending the most environmentally friendly route, as long as it’s not that much slower than the alternative. If the time difference between routes is negligible, the app defaults to the one that saves gas. The feature’s launch was met with significant internal buzz. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, said that it could save “over one million tons of carbon emissions per year—the equivalent of removing over 200,000 cars from the road.”