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How Google lowered the carbon cost of the Pixel 5 housing by 35%

Recycled aluminum—which no phone manufactured had previously tried—was key.

How Google lowered the carbon cost of the Pixel 5 housing by 35%

Julie Rapoport, who oversees sustainability and environmental compliance at Google, works with the company’s design teams to audit the carbon impact of its devices and pinpoint “hot spots” that can be improved. While Google was developing its Pixel 5 smartphone, Rapoport and her team determined that the phone’s aluminum back was a hot spot due to the carbon-intensive mining and refining that aluminum requires.

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Transitioning to recycled aluminum would lower the phone housing’s carbon cost by 35%, but no phone manufacturer had ever done it before. Google negotiated with metal suppliers to secure recycled aluminum for the same price as new—a feat in itself. “One of my guiding principles is that sustainability shouldn’t have to cost more,” Rapoport says.

She also got buy-in from design and engineering teams, which had to validate that the recycled material could look as beautiful and perform as well. The Pixel 5 launched last September and temporarily sold out in December. It continues to be a top-10 seller on Amazon.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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