How to find eco-friendly driving directions in Google Maps

Google Maps on Android Auto
(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Google Maps has "sustainability" built into its directions, since you can see how to get places by walking, bike, or public transit while leaving your gas-guzzling car in the garage. But if you do have to drive to your destination, Google Maps has eco-friendly driving tools that help you find the most fuel-efficient route to your destination.

The company estimates that its eco-friendly routing prevented "half a million metric tons of carbon emissions — the equivalent of taking 100,000 fuel-based cars off the road." Plus, Google has since added other Google Maps eco-friendly tools that hybrid or electric car owners will appreciate.

Whether you're using Google Maps' eco-friendly driving directions on an Android phone or an iPhone or iPad, the step-by-step process is relatively easy.

How to find eco-friendly driving directions in Google Maps

Google rolled out eco-friendly routes in Google Maps for drivers in the United States, Canada, and about 40 countries in Europe as of late 2022. The steps below assume you live somewhere where eco-friendly routes are available.

To generally enable fuel-efficient routes in Google Maps:

1. Tap your Google account profile icon in Google Maps.

2. Select Settings.

3. Scroll down to find Navigation Settings.

4. Under Route options, toggle Prefer fuel-efficient routes on. This will suggest these routes by default "when arrival times are similar."

(Image credit: Android Central)

To specifically enable a fuel-efficient route for one trip:

1. Search for any destination in the Google Maps app.

2. At the bottom left, select Directions.

3. Enter your start location.

4. At the top right, select ... More.

Screenshots showing how to turn on "prefer fuel-efficient routes" on Google Maps by default

(Image credit: Android Central)

5. Select Route options.

6. Select Prefer fuel-efficient routes.

7. Select Done.

Once you trigger this option, then hitting Directions will typically show a green leaf symbol and the promise that it is the "Most fuel-efficient" route available. Swipe up to show more information, and it'll say "Uses X% less fuel than alternate routes," promising "fewer hills, less traffic & constant speeds."

If you decide that speed is more important for a trip than fuel economy, then simply re-follow the steps above and uncheck "Prefer fuel-efficient routes" to change back your results.

A map showing total car trips taken within a city boundary in a year.

(Image credit: Google)

Even if you don't use this option, Google may help make your drives more fuel-efficient anyway. It created an initiative called the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) that gives cities "free access to Google’s unique mapping data" so they can "make sustainable decisions regarding cleaner transport policies." Google hopes this will encourage cities to invest more in public transportation and reduce emissions over time.

Plus, Google made a new Routes API that third-party apps can use to offer their own fuel-efficient routes. So in theory, even your favorite ride-share or delivery apps might use a little less gas thanks to Google Maps.

How to adjust Google Maps routes for electric or hybrid cars

Google Maps can actually take your type of vehicle into account for directions, which is especially useful if you need to know where the nearest charging station is for an efficient route. 

1. Go back to Profile > Settings > Navigation Settings > Route Options

2. Tap Engine type and choose Gas, Diesel, Electric, or Hybrid.

3. If you own an electric or hybrid car, go back into Settings and select Electric vehicle settings.

4. Tap Add plugs and enter which type your car needs. This way, when you search for nearby charging stations during your drive, Maps will take this into account. 

Once this is set up, Google Maps will help electric car drivers on long trips to find "the best stop based on factors like current traffic, your charge level and expected energy consumption." 

Also, when you search for nearby stations, you can filter the results by tapping Fast Charge above the map, so they only show stations that hit "150 kilowatts or higher," so you don't have to wait for long to get moving.

How to find bike-share and scooter-share options in Google Maps

Google understands the importance of eco-friendly alternatives to driving, which is why it helps to have options. The company has also expanded bike and scooter share information to over 300 cities around the world on both Android and iOS. You can find nearby stations and pinpoint how many vehicles are available at that moment in major cities such as New York, Berlin, New York, São Paulo, and more. When you're done, you can check and confirm there's a place to park before heading to the station.

Here's how to find that information:

1. Search for your destination and select Directions.

2. Enter your start location. 

3. Select the Cycling tab. 

4. On the display bottom, you'll see the time it would take on Your bike. To that tab's right, you may see other bike-share or scooter-share options. Select another tab to see your options.

Google Maps bike sharing

(Image credit: Android Central)

Partnered services will appear on the map, showing how many bikes are available at the nearest location. You'll also see approximate walking times to the nearest available bike, cycling distance to the nearest parking spot, and walk time from that spot to your final destination. And if the service has its own Android or iOS app, you'll see an Open app option to reserve your bike or scooter.

If, however, you don't see any other tabs, that means your city isn't currently supported by Google Maps, and you'll have to rely on your own bike to get around.

More to come

Google said back in 2021 that it was developing "lite navigation for cyclists." This feature will allow users to quickly view important details about their route without keeping their screen on or entering turn-by-turn navigation mode. This makes it much easier to track your trip progress, see your ETA updated in real-time, and know the elevation of your route while keeping your focus on the road.

In theory, this tool will make some cyclists more likely to leave the car behind and rely on their bikes, which is the most eco-friendly decision you can make. But lite navigation still hasn't arrived, so we hope it will soon.

For now, you can use Google Maps to find eco-friendly businesses as well, once you've reached your destination. Google's Sustainable with Google program is adding a bunch of other tools for Google and Android users to make more environmentally positive decisions in their lives, if you're interested.

Courtney Lynch

Courtney Lynch is a freelance writer at Android Central. She's obsessed with all things health, fitness, and music. At any given time, she can be found checking out the latest and greatest gadgets while simultaneously petting her dog and sipping iced coffee.

With contributions from