May 11, 2009 — -- "Google is not a conventional company," wrote the tech and search engine giant's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. "We do not intend to become one."
But using goats instead of lawn mowers? That seems to go a step beyond the free food and employee concierge services. Google employees ("Googlers," in the company's well-publicized parlance) also get time off to be inventive and adhere to the informal motto, "Don't be evil," which was long part of the company's code of conduct.
It's hard to get a job at Google, but those who do become part of a firm that tries to organize the world's information, and leave the world in good shape too.
The company says the goats, used to to clear brush at corporate headquarters, are just one part of Google's effort to be environmentally sustainable and, as a result, they say, more profitable. If the goats didn't do the work, gas-powered lawn mowers might have to.
"It's actually funny," said Google's Niki Fenwick, from the company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. "It's just our real estate folks -- they've done it on their own. One of them worked somewhere else where they'd tried it. They bring in these goats to clear undeveloped land on the property."
Outsiders -- even some who have at times been critical of the company -- say the company's green tinge is for real.
"They're not doing this for show," said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com, a Web site that tracks Google and its competitors. "One of the reasons is that it's smart business sense."
There's also a fleet of plug-in hybrid cars that are free for employees to use. The cars are fitted with batteries that can be charged while the cars are parked at the so-called "Googleplex."
And where does Google get the electricity? From solar panels over the parking lot. Today's solar panels are relatively inefficient because not much of the sunlight that hits them gets converted to electric power. But there's no air pollution, and the sunlight, of course, is free.
The buildings are also described as environmentally friendly, letting in fresh air and sunlight to cut down on the need for electricity use, and avoiding such materials as PVC plastics.
But those are small touches compared to a more mundane-sounding one that is much more important to the company. Google makes money from people coming to its Web site to search for things, and the computer centers that do the searching can be energy hogs.
"This whole green commitment started with trying to get the cost per search as low as possible," said Fenwick. By cutting down on the power needed for cooling and data processing, she said, the firm cut electricity use at its five main data centers in half.
Today, the firm says, 10,000 searches on Google release less carbon emissions into the atmosphere from power plants than from the tailpipe of one average car driving five miles.
Google also offers free commuter service for employees who live in the San Francisco Bay area. Its shuttle buses, naturally, run on biodiesel.