Corporate America is making a new kind of climate change pledge. In recent months, tech giants have promised to use their reach and resources to participate in battles for water conservation. Facebook announced at the end of August that it would declare its efforts to actively utilize water by 2030. And this week, Google made a similar announcement to make data centers more efficient and support the water security of the communities in which they operate.
Google, Facebook, and several other companies have promised to return more water to the environment than pipe the exchanges they call “water positives.” This means that we plan to reduce the amount of water needed to operate the facility while protecting natural waterways and maintaining access to clean drinking water in drought-prone areas. increase. The calculation is based on the number of gallons you want to restore, not the newly generated H2O. Both Facebook and Google are committed to sharing nature maintenance research and technology with others.
Their timing makes a lot of sense. Water scarcity is occurring in many western states this year. Last month, authorities announced a water shortage in a large reservoir on Lake Mead after a 22-year drought in the region. Federal officials soon made an unprecedented water outage for about 40 million people who depended on the Colorado River to water Lake Mead.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, water stress is also a global problem, with more than a billion people worldwide lacking stable access to clean water. This is often due to infrastructure problems, but climate change is also changing precipitation patterns and increasing droughts and floods affecting vulnerable communities.
Given the current state of the planet, companies like Facebook and Google are the only fit to change the way they use water and other important resources, said a professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Manhattan. One Pamela Chasek said. Pledge of past corporate culture.
She explains that tech companies use a lot of energy and water in their data centers. Corporate sector contributions are needed to address climate change and water scarcity.
[Related: Cutting water consumption requires more consideration than you’d think]
According to a 2020 report by Data Center Knowledge, Google operates more than 20 data centers around the world. Facebook, on the other hand, has seven data centers in the United States. Social media companies have also announced that they will open more data centers this year.
Venkatesh Uddameri, a professor and director of the Texas Tech University Water Resources Center, told NBC News earlier this year that a typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day. increase. Many are used to cool huge servers, machine learning systems, and other hardware that businesses run 24 hours a day.
Both Facebook and Google say they are testing ways to reduce the amount of water used to cool these data centers. For example, Google’s Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt emailed PopSci that it introduced technology that uses recycled wastewater to cool data centers in Douglas County, Georgia. The San Francisco Bay Area office campus has worked with ecologists and landscape architects to develop ecological design strategies and habitat guidelines to improve landscape resilience and the health of nearby basins.
Facebook states in its pledge that some global offices use onsite reclaimed water systems. The company also said it has developed a technology that cools the data center with the outside air, allowing it to operate an average of 80% more water efficiently than industry standards.
On the other end of the “water positive” equation, the two companies say they have sought a local partner to reach their new water sustainability goals. Google is working with the Colorado River Indian Tribal Project to reduce the amount of water drawn from Lake Mead’s reservoirs on the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona. Meanwhile, Facebook points out that it is funding the Rio Grande Water Fund to restore ties between the stressed Sedro Creek and its historic floodplain.
Water usage has long been a concern as large technical offices and data centers compete with locals (people and wildlife) for limited water supplies in drought-prone areas. rice field. Friction has intensified in the last few years. In 2017, South Carolina-based conservation groups criticized Google for plans to pump more than a million gallons of water per day from the depleted Goose Creek basin. The company eventually signed a contract to withdraw 5 million gallons per day from another aquifer.
When asked if the water pledge feels like greenwashing, Chasek said how transparent Facebook and Google would be and how transparent they would be in taking the actions behind the promise. It depends on whether it is.
One of the interesting things about the Facebook project, she explains, is working with NGOs and other organizations in terms of partnerships. These partnerships can determine the best place to perform water recovery operations. [which] It’s part of that accountability. How are they investing in these water recovery projects, especially in the western United States, where water stress is highest? Those projects need to look a lot of scrutiny.
[Related: What companies really mean when they say theyre net-zero]
Jim Murphy, assistant professor at Vermont Law School and director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic, agrees that major tech companies should be held accountable for sustainability claims by external organizations and government agencies. But he makes sense that strong industries support water management, but policies are the best way to manage the responsible use of natural resources, especially in communities affected by climate change. Claims to be.
Even for publicly traded companies, the problem with private companies is that they have certain obligations to their shareholders, he says.These are not accountable or created entities [through] Public interest.
This type of decoupling is especially important as fossil fuel companies like BP, which helped exacerbate climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, launch their own “water positive” campaigns.
Murphy continues that proper protection of the entire basin from pollution and destruction is paramount. The Biden administration has taken some steps in this direction and they really need to continue.
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