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GN Book Excerpt -- Google; Setting A Corporate Community Example Of Bettering The Human Condition

Posted Feb 16 2011 3:39pm
Google Facility Solar Panels.jpg

View of the solar panel array on the roof of Google's headquarters.

This is a chapter excerpt from my book, "Gardening Nude," which I published in 2008. I thought it needed a revisit. In this feature you learn about some of the amazing things Google has done to be green and encourage the Google green mindset to be adopted by the corporate community. (Note - this is a longer blog post.) Enjoy!!

GN Book Excerpt -- Google; Setting A Community Example Of Bettering The Human Condition

One person can make a difference. But what if I told you that one corporation can make a difference as well? Improved mental and physical health is dependent upon this concept, and it applies to ongoing greening, better health, and community building as well as many other aspects of life. Google is a company filled with employees who are making a difference in all these categories.

When founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began Google in a Stanford University dorm room, they had no idea Google would become a corporate cultural icon and a positive global influence. Since Google's initial incorporation in 1998, its influence has gone beyond the traditional American corporate mindset, setting new standards in "outside-the-box" thinking. The term "google" is even listed in the dictionary as a common reference to search for information online.

The Google way of thinking puts environmentalism, philanthropy, and positive employee relations at the forefront of their mission. In other words, for Google it is not just about the money, it is about bettering the human condition of their employees--and people everywhere. Testimony to this is in the commonly used unofficial Google slogan, "Don't be evil!"

At the forefront of this concept is an open management style which encourages idea contribution from all Google employees. According to Google, "The exchange of ideas is essential to creating a successful, collaborative working environment. We're organized into small, flat teams that allow for interaction between all employees, and we actively encourage all employees to ask questions, even to those at our highest levels. One example of this is our weekly TGIF meeting, which is hosted by Larry Page and Sergey Brin and gives all employees--even international employees, who can attend via videoconference and submit questions online--the chance to ask the founders any question they want, from large company-wide objectives to more mundane work questions."

(To keep reading this post, please click on the link.)

The message that bettering one's self and one's community can go hand in hand with corporate business is a uniquely positive outlook in today's corporate world. Yet this is what Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., encourages. When others said it was not possible, Google decided to "garden nude" on a global level, stating clearly that one company can make a difference for the world by building a community of do-gooders. In turn, if you ask any of the Google employees who have worked on a positive do-good project for the community how they feel about themselves, you will be rewarded with a surprisingly positive response. Why? Because doing good for others within a community improves attitudes and builds reassuring relationships. It makes people happy and healthy.

Google continues to set a positive example for the rest of the corporate world by developing ongoing programs to help their employees live a healthier and greener lifestyle. Simultaneously, Google is influencing employees to make a difference in the world by accomplishing do-good activities for people in their own communities as well as globally by setting an example for others to follow. This is a significant ingredient in building community.

Philanthropic efforts at Google come from all over the company, and are not just housed in Google.org [the philanthropic arm of Google corporate]. Several other efforts are underway at Google, from environmentally-focused initiatives to in-kind advertising for non-profits. These efforts start online at a community based website built to assist Google employees help the outside community.

According to CNNMoney.com, after the company's initial public offering (IPO) in August of 2004, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, as well as current CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt, requested that their base salary be cut to one dollar. They realized they already had a generous income from Google stock returns. Unlike many other corporate upper managers in the United States who want more and more and combine their excessively high salaries with stock returns, the senior Google team sees the reality--that enough is enough. They believe it is better to use the income for bettering employee working conditions or supporting programs that help others within the global community. They know that their stock benefits are tied directly to the performance of the company; and therefore, management's direct dedication to Google will be reflected in positive stock performance from stock returns. For senior management at Google, it is all about setting a positive example.

Working conditions, benefits, and corporate team-building experiences are excellent at Google. These positive experiences are considered "out-of-the-box benefits" compared to the average American business, and they help promote the unique family community environment in which Google employees revel. In other words, it encourages positive mental health.

Google Restaurant.jpg

View of workers at a Google restaurant facility.

Currently, all employees may receive free lunch, dinner, and snacks while working at a Google facility. These meals are served by world-class chefs. Dr. Taraneh Razavi, M.D. is the corporate on-site doctor for Google. She says that one of her main roles as the company doctor is education and prevention, "Google has been very good about setting up an environment which allows me to spend the time necessary time with the patients to better educate them about the particular medical conditions rather than having to see them in the hurried manner that most clinics and doctors have to conduct their practices. The employees feel that they have an advocate."

This is a particularly advantageous situation for Google employees as having an on-site doctor can enhance early detection of health issues, therefore promoting and encouraging better physical health. Razavi says, "Being physically present in the work atmosphere has allowed me to better analyze the needs of the workers and to assess what types of programs such as nutrition, smoking cessation or weight loss plans, for example, should be implemented. In general, I see the same types of medical conditions that I would see in an outside office--hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol--however, I see these conditions much earlier than I normally would as an outside doctor because the employees/ patients are more likely to come in sooner to see me at work than they would if they had to make an appointment and spend a few hours outside of work. This is important, because early diagnosis and intervention in management of these patients have a significant impact in the long term morbidity and mortality outcome."

A special mental health benefit of working with Google is the company allows employees to bring dogs to work. Pets are great stress relievers. Google recognizes that dogs can be a valuable and important part of employees' lives, and one that can greatly enhance employees' overall work experience. The presence of dogs at Google has always been a unique and treasured part of our workplace culture.

Google Pets.jpg

Dogs are allowed in offices at Google - a great way to help the health of their owners.

The list of benefits extends from employee referral programs to more than fifteen days paid vacation each year. As a California Google employee, if your regularly scheduled child care cancels, Google provides up to five free days of child care each year. Employees may tap into many utilitarian on-site services at the corporate headquarters, including oil change, car wash, dry cleaning, massage therapy, gym, hair stylist, fitness classes, and bike repair, just to name a few.

To encourage philanthropy, Google has a wonderful program. The company will match any donations an employee gives to a nonprofit organization, up to $3,000 each year. Google's many family assistance programs help build the family community, including adoption assistance or maternity leave for both parents of a newborn. Google's goal is to build a group of healthy employees who can contribute by doing good for both their family community and the global community.

Google has far exceeded any humble goals the founding team dreamed of financially, but Google's true wealth is in how it is inspiring others to be greener and healthier around the world.

Google built a corporate community which has become like a second family to many of its employees, referred to as "Googlers." With more than 16,000 of the most creative and talented employees in the world, Google recognizes the possible positive influence they may have on all of humanity worldwide. What an amazing statement that is now becoming a reality.

In 2007, Google made an exciting announcement that, for 2007 and all years moving forward, the company will be carbon neutral. Google's giant computer infrastructure must be housed in buildings which need to be cooled and managed. Bolstering power-saving technologies, such as evaporative cooling systems, has increased the efficiency of the company's data centers. Reducing the corporate carbon footprint by replacing incandescent bulbs with high-efficiency lighting as well as utilizing natural light is a common practice at Google facilities. The Mountain View, California, headquarters currently has one of the largest solar panel installations in the United States.

Remarkable and amazing you say? Not for Google. These do-good-for-the-community policies are just the beginning of how Google is making a difference for the family-like employee community. Several examples of how Google encourages its employees to go a step above and beyond to improve health and build community is documented on the Official Google Blog. Community building efforts for 2008 include a health push at the Atlanta Google office. Googlers partnered with the Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to support an initiative called Get Outdoors Georgia (GO Georgia). Google Transit is explained on the blog page as well, an initiative which helps the average American plan trips using public transportation.

Google provides a lengthy online list of green tools for both professional and residential computer users. Providing this free information helps expand greening knowledge for the average citizen and how it can touch each community.

Also, as part of the company's ongoing initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and encourage healthier breathing quality for its employees, encourages physical exercise and utilization of non-carbon emitting products. As an example, many Googlers bike to work. According to Joe Gross, a systems operation manager at Google, "So many Googlers commute by bike every day that you can't easily look down a hallway and not see a bicycle or two leaning against the wall. Some people bike in from just a few miles away while others combine their commute with other [physical] training."

In an ongoing effort to improve transportation and build community traffic flow, Google provides courtesy bikes for employees both at the Mountain View, California, and European locations. These bikes help pedestrians get from one side of a campus to the other without using of carbon output transportation. Further programs include an employee shuttle program, alternative fuel vehicle fleet, and other environmental transportation programs.

Google team members told me that at the Mountain View headquarters that community 'GBikes' are accessible to all employees, allowing an efficient and enjoyable manner during the work day. Green-friendly Googlers can also bike or take public transportation to work with the Self-Powered Commuting Program (which offers a donation to a charity of choice for each day of travel). The goal, of course, is to reduce carbon output, but it is also to facilitate a better community plan which enables pedestrians to both safely traverse facilities and utilize healthy building and community enhancing tools with which to do so.

This consideration from larger corporations, such as Google, is particularly important for Americans. At the Chicagoland Metropolitan Council's Conference in 2007 titled, "The Heat is On: Why hybrid vehicles won't save the planet", Reid Ewing, Ph.D. spoke about the need for greening to include more than recycling and alternative vehicle choices. His presentation centered on the concept that when corporations and cities engineer road and structural layout to avoid urban sprawl conditions, it is more convenient to live a greener lifestyle, and therefore, easier to be healthier. For example, less carbon is used when a car needs to travel a shorter distance. People walk more when retail stores and services are closer to one's home or office.

Ewing, with his contemporaries, published a groundbreaking article in the American Journal of Health Promotion. Titled "Relationship between urban sprawl and physical activity, obesity, and morbidity" the article is based on a study where researchers determined the relationship between urban sprawl, health, and health-related issues. Their conclusions surprised the scientific community when they discovered a direct correlation between obesity and communities with poor urban planning and land transportation management. Google is one of the first businesses in the world to address this concern by engineering and building transportation systems and facility layout which encourage interactive community exercise and convenient low-emission vehicles for their employees.

Building a better, greener community can connect mental health, physical health, and the satisfaction level of the people living within that community. Google has figured out that enhancing a person's lifestyle is not simply about handing an employee a salary. Rather, it is more significant to help that employee live a better quality of life and achieve day-to-day satisfaction in life's journey. The company has learned that many things are involved in finding satisfaction in life. From the physical layout of the corporate facilities, to providing programs which encourage better mental and physical health, to encouraging a more mindful way of looking at the world.

While Google won the prestigious award of being the best employer to work for in the Fortune Magazine's 2008 list of top 100 employers, this seems a small achievement compared to the monumental global community good Google is doing.

Larry Brilliant, M.D. is currently the executive director at Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Google organization built to care for the world. Global challenges, such as climate change, poverty, and emerging disease are addressed aggressively. Google.org is challenging itself and the world to improve living conditions for all of humanity--the ultimate community. Tapping into the power of modern day information and technology, Brilliant and his team hope to empower people around the world with five major initiatives: Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C), RechargeIT, Predict and Prevent, Inform and Empower to Improve Human Services, and Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal Initiative (RE<C) is a fantastic plan to improve the global community's energy needs. This strategic initiative is researching development of electricity from renewable resources that are cheaper to produce than coal. Initially, the focus is on solar thermal power, wind power and enhanced geothermal technologies. Coal still provides nearly 40 percent of the world's electricity. If successful, the RE<C program could provide solutions which can significantly reduce global carbon emissions from coal burning, and improve the air quality for millions of people across the world.

Google has joined the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI). According to the CSCI website, "By 2010, we seek to reduce global CO2 emissions from the operation of computers by 54 million tons per year, equivalent to the annual output of 11 million cars or 10 to20 coal-fired power plants. This effort will lead to a 50 percent reduction in power consumption by computers by 2010, and committed participants could collectively save $5.5 billion in energy costs."

Accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology, RechargeIT targets carbon emissions. Google, utilizing the expression "practice what you preach," proves to demonstrate that businesses should be the first ones in a community to set a positive environmental example. Leading the way, the company demonstrates this technology within its own fleet and supports others by providing grants and investments to revolutionize the "plug-in" mindset.

Google.org has a special leader in Dr. Larry Brilliant. He was one of the doctors who helped eradicate small pox from our planet. He founded the Seva Foundation, a nonprofit organization that cured approximately two million people of blindness in more than fifteen countries. In 2006, Brilliant won the TED Prize, a remarkable award given by The Sapling Foundation. The TED organization encourages and fosters a better understanding of the issues facing the world and bonds the world community to create a more positive future. When Brilliant won the TED prize, in addition to the $100,000 he received from the foundation, he was also granted "one wish to change the world". This wish allowed him to ask some of the greatest minds on earth to help him build a global early-response system to detect new diseases or disasters as quickly as they emerge or occur. When instituted, perhaps this seemingly impossible wish will eradicate the enormous potential of a pandemic disease threat. Shortly after Brilliant won this award, he was invited by Google executives to manage Google.org and help a company filled with do-gooders make a serious difference in the world community.

Predict and Prevent is a direct response to Brilliant's vision of a pandemic-free world. Google.org's utilization of information and technology to assist in the prediction and prevention of emerging disasters and threats on a local, regional, and global level could change the face of humanity. Its early spotlight will be infectious diseases, which are on the rise worldwide.

Google.org established the Inform and Empower To Improve Human Services program in a humanitarian effort to improve public services globally, such as clean water, education, and health systems. As communities come together to build stronger accountability, it will help change the quality of public services throughout the world.

Many developing countries suffer from poor economic growth. Often, this is because the government does not support small and middle-sized business growth which would benefit small communities. By funding these businesses, the Fuel The Growth of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) program seeks to reduce poverty in communities which desperately need the tools and knowledge to improve their living conditions.

All of these Google.org programs do something special for our world; they help bring people together. This creates better mental and physical health--this is the message of this book. Building community is so much more than simply knowing and waving at your neighbors. Building community is about creating stronger avenues to help build a better world.

Most everyone in the world must work in one form or another to support their families. Ultimately, all of these workers must report to their supervisor who is, most often, a part of a corporation. Millions of corporations have millions of workers which all unite to supply the earth with its many needs. Although companies often supply workers with a pay check and insurance, the companies seldom supply a comprehensive plan to assist workers understand the greater world like Google demonstrates.

Google Employees.jpg

Office workers at Google's headquarters.

There are many reasons to begin corporate programs that focus on well being and community. It is important to build these programs where you work. Why? By starting from the ground up and building community within a corporation, it improves employee's mental and physical health. Business will soon see that they can ensure a more productive work output. More importantly, the employees will soon see that it is much easier to come to work when you feel as if you are a part of a family community within your working environment. You feel less stressed and more mentally healthy.

Instituting a corporate program might also be the spark to motivate the business' global contribution to greening and health practices. Once the program is understood, it will soon become evident that world health can be improved as well as an individual employee's health. Google and Google.org are evidence that a single corporation can make a global difference and inspire positive actions from its smaller employee community.

In the end, contributing to employees' health can become a catalyst for positive change within employees' personal lives. It can set an example to each and every employee that the company holds high expectations for beneficial health practices. This concept can expand exponentially if the employees utilize the healthier greening and living ideas promoted by the company and then proceed to teach their families and neighborhood communities these same ways of living.

Soon it becomes far more than a way to improve production within the business; it demonstrates and encourages "doing the right thing" mentality.

Imagine, if every business within the United States picked up this idea of supporting their employees--their corporate community--by educating them on better health practices, greening practices, and community building techniques? The concept seems revolutionary, yet the implications of building a better, greener world by utilizing corporate entities is awesome! And yes, it can help contribute to better world health.

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