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Google begins effort to help sustainability startups, amid climate change criticism

The initiative aims to help startups in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

 Google says it'll provide training, products and technical support to sustainability startups.
Angela Lang/CNET

Google on Tuesday launched a program to help startups working on projects related to sustainability and solving social problems. The announcement comes as the search giant faces blowback from its employees over its climate change policies. 

The program is a startup accelerator that'll provide young companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa with "access to training, products and technical support," Kate Brandt, Google's chief sustainability officer, said in a blog post. The companies will work with teams at Google, local mentors and outside experts. Google will choose eight to 10 startups, and the program, which'll begin early next year, lasts 6 months. 

The program won't provide funding to startups but will introduce entrepreneurs to potential investors, Brandt said. The initiative aims to help startups focused on "poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice," she said.

The launch comes a day after more than 1,000 Google employees signed an open letter to CFO Ruth Porat demanding action on issues related to climate change. 

In the letter, employees urge a commitment from Google to reach zero emissions by 2030, as well as to shun contracts that "enable or accelerate the extraction of fossil fuels." The employees also called on the company to ban funding to think tanks, lobbyists or politicians that deny climate change or delay solutions. Additionally, the workers want Google to vow not to collaborate with groups that harm refugees or other groups affected on the "frontline" of climate change.

Google says it's been carbon neutral since 2007, meaning it has offset the emissions it's produced by doing things like planting trees. But employee activists want the company to go further. 

In the last few months, Google has made a bigger push in sustainability projects. In September, the search giant announced 18 new energy deals across the US, Chile and Europe. That includes purchasing energy from solar farms in South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas, and making data center investments in Chile that combine solar and wind power.