Net Positive Water – How Do We Do It?
We’ve been talking a lot recently about why we think the data center industry should take a close look at its water consumption – not only to protect the sustainability of the regions where we operate, but for the sustainability of our business. Our goal is to reach net positive water for all of our facilities in high water stress regions. We haven’t talked as much about how we make that happen.
Net Positive Water Methodology
Our net positive water methodology has three steps: 1) Identify facility water stress, 2) reduce water usage, and 3) fund restoration through BEF Water Restoration Certificates® (WRCs).
First, we identify which of the facilities we own are operating in regions currently experiencing high or extremely high water stress, using the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas. A good number of our data centers are located in water stressed areas, meaning that the demand for water in an area exceeds the supply available for use. Because water is a limited natural resource and is in high demand, issues with water supply could interrupt facility operations or lead to conflict with local communities.
Next, we attempt to reduce water usage on the site through operational efficiency measures and upgrades. While our new data centers are usually designed with water-free cooling from the start, some of our old facilities still use evaporative cooling, which consumes a lot of water. In such cases, we upgrade our cooling systems to eliminate evaporative cooling. Then we look for other ways to reduce water use. We might change the landscaping around a facility, employing drought tolerant species, to reduce irrigation water. Or, we may upgrade bathroom and break room fixtures to lower-flow versions. Overall, we do what we can at the site to increase our water efficiency.
Finally, we partner with environmental nonprofits through Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) by acquiring BEF Water Restoration Certificates® to fund restoration of water flows in our selected regions. These WRCs help to provide more abundant water to communities and improve habitat in rivers, wetlands, and meadows. If we can restore at least 20% more water than we use, we consider this to be a net positive water facility.
To make a lasting impact, this can’t just be a one-time purchase. Instead, once a facility becomes net positive water, we continue to purchase WRCs annually to cover the site’s water use. Each year we will add to our net positive water portfolio until we are purchasing WRCs annually for all of our facilities in high stress regions.
While we are proud of our progress and excited that large companies are setting goals to reach net positive water with us, just a few data centers can’t alleviate regional water shortages alone. We are looking forward to a future where our whole industry commits to achieving net positive water together.