Google has matched water use pledges by Microsoft and Facebook by announcing a ‘water stewardship target’ to replenish more water than it consumes by 2030 and to support water security in communities where it operates.

Stewardship

Google says that through focusing on water stewardship at office campuses and data centres, ecosystems in water-stressed communities, and by sharing prediction technology and tools, it can replenish 120 per cent the water it consumes.

Water For Data Centre Cooling

Data centres have traditionally been big water users as part of cooling process. For example, back in 2019, it was reported (from public records and online legal filings) that Google requested/was granted, more than 2.3 billion gallons of water for data centres in three different states. Also, in 2020 in early 2020 in Red Oak, just south of Dallas, a legal filing indicated that that Google may have needed as much as 1.46 billion gallons of water a year for its data centre by 2021.

Criticism

Google is not the only big tech company that’s needed lots of water for data centre cooling, often in hot locations where others are urged to conserve water. The practice has led to criticism that tech companies may have been taking away critical resources away from water-scarce communities as well as consuming vast amounts of water at a time when there is a strong focus on the environment and climate change.

Office Campuses

Google has stressed that its water stewardship pledge, as part of its broader carbon-neutral plan, is a journey that it has been on for some time. For example, Google’s water stewardship announcement highlights its plans to look at how it can utilise more on-site water sources (collected storm-water and treated wastewater) at its office campuses for landscape irrigation, cooling and toilet flushing, and the company has already developed drip irrigation, using watering systems linked to local conditions for its San Francisco Bay campuses.

Prediction Tech

Google’s latest announcement also highlights how it has already partnered with organisations including United the Nations Environment Programme and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Global Water Watch, and OpenET to help Communities, policymakers, and planners with need tools to measure and predict water availability and water needs.

Sustainable Water Management at Data Centres

In Google’s 2020 Environmental Report, a year before this latest water stewardship pledge, the company highlighted its work on sustainable water management practices and new cooling options at its datacentres in Finland, Belgium, Ireland, and Douglas County, Georgia.

Facebook and Microsoft

Back in August, Facebook announced its commitment to replenishing more water than it consumes in its global operations by 2030 by improving water efficiency in-house and investing in water restoration projects. Also, in September, Microsoft pledged to replenish more water than it consumes by 2030 on a global basis.

Innovative Solutions

Examples of innovative solutions to data centre cooling that Microsoft has tried in recent years include sinking a data centre to the ocean floor of the coast of Orkney for 2 years (retrieved and hailed a success in 2020) and using liquid immersion cooling at datacentre on the eastern bank of the Columbia River.

What Does This Mean for Your Organisation?

Climate change, a growing world population and increasing industrial development have all contributed to a water crisis that requires innovative moves to reduce the amount of water humans use to operate economies and societies. The huge growth of the Internet, the big move to the cloud, and closer scrutiny, particularly about water requirements in data centres (often in water-scarce communities) have put pressure on the big tech companies to make public pledges and work harder to find more innovative and sustainable solutions to their resource requirements, and to communicate these to stakeholders. Although tackling a growing water crisis is a challenge that requires a global effort and changes at individual as well as enterprise and government level, big tech companies like Google are keen to highlight ways that show they are doing their part and in doing so, maintain a positive brand image, as well as compete effectively on environmental credentials.