By Susan Diegelman, AT&T and Brendan FitzSimons, Environmental Defense Fund
Across the United States, and especially throughout the South and West, drought has been a persistent problem that is more and more -becoming the new normal.
Some recent photos from America’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, show how drought is drastically reducing water reserves. This month, its water levels sank to a record low and federal water managers predict that by next spring, the level will have dropped even further.
Now let’s make it personal. According to Circle of Blue, the price of residential water has increased 33 percent since 2010 in 30 major US cities. This is based on water scarcity issues as well as the cost of energy associated with moving more water further distances to reach residents in drought areas.
Water scarcity is a global issue driven by countless local decisions regarding its use, as well as larger environmental factors outside of our control. Because businesses and utilities must now factor the risks and costs caused by water scarcity into everyday operations, we at AT&T and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) believe these risks demand immediate attentions and action.
For any organization, large or small, a good place to start is a usage assessment with the free Water Efficiency Toolkit, cooperatively developed by AT&T and EDF. The tool kit provides a set of materials to help organizational leaders and facility managers operate cooling systems more efficiently, enabling them to save both water and related energy and chemicals.
We’ve targeted cooling because roughly 28 percent of the water used in a typical office building is for heating and cooling, and that number jumps to nearly 50 percent for technical facilities like data centers and manufacturing plants.
The toolkit includes a water scorecard to track a broad assessment of an organization’s water use at a facility level. The scorecard is integrated with a calculator to estimate savings, in both dollars and gallons of water, from more efficient water use and increased free-air cooling. We’ve provided additional resources to help an organization get started, like a webinar walking through the toolkit and its functionality, a cooling system efficiency guide with accompanying video series, and sample water audit templates.
AT&T takes environmental sustainability very seriously and, over the last several years, has devoted considerable time and resources toward improving its own environmental impact and water sustainability initiatives. The more than 1,500 cooling towers across AT&T’s facilities consume roughly 1 billion gallons of water a year. Working together with EDF to look at the water impacts from its operations, AT&T found that optimizing these building cooling systems held the biggest opportunities for water savings. The Water Efficiency Toolkit is the result of this multi-year collaboration between AT&T and EDF, distilling best practices identified through our work into a set of tools any organization can use.
Through our work together, AT&T has set a goal to realize 150 million gallons of annualized water savings (about 5 percent of our total water use) and 400 million kilowatt-hours of annualized electricity savings by the end of 2015. In addition, AT&T has included water sustainability in its Supplier Survey to motivate its suppliers to reduce their water use as well. As a result of these and other efforts, the amount of water AT&T uses to run its network has decreased from 105 gallons per terabyte of network traffic in 2010 to 48 gallons in 2013—a drop of almost 54 percent.
Our collaboration continues. We’ve pooled resources to share these tools with organizations in five heavily water-stressed areas—Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles and Phoenix—to scale up additional water savings in areas where they’re vitally needed. In cities like these, widespread adoption of the practices outlined in the toolkit could help shrink the gap between existing water supply and growing demand. And, as America’s businesses and communities invest in the next generation of infrastructure, it’s essential to ensure that it is maximally efficient and helps respond to increasing resource challenges.
The spread of drought and drought-related problems—including higher food prices and health concerns—is both a national and a global problem. We all need to do our part to reduce water risks, and working together to better manage water use is a crucial step.
Learn more about the EDF/AT&T Water Efficiency Toolkit at edf.org/attwater.