Water Management

Materiality Assessment Topic: Company Water Use

Issue Summary

Water is essential to life. It is a vital resource for environmental and social sustainability and economic prosperity. Reducing water use and managing this resource wisely is critical.

Our Position

We have a responsibility to actively manage and reduce our water use wherever possible. Water is crucial for our operations; our largest water use is to cool many of the facilities that house our network equipment. Water supply challenges can have an impact on our business operations.

Data Highlights

2014 Key Performance Indicators
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Absolute (gallons) 3.331B 3.357B 3.282B 3.113B 3.046B
Water intensity (gallons/$ thousand revenue)1 26.80 26.49 25.75 24.18 23.15
Water intensity (gallons/Terabyte network traffic) 105 84 61 48 45
2014 Goal
2014 Progress Toward Goal
  • Realize 150 million gallons — roughly 15 percent of cooling tower water use and 5 percent of total water use — of annualized water savings by the end of 2015.
  • Realize 400 million kWh in annualized electricity savings from free-air cooling projects by the end of 2015.

  • Since the beginning of 2013 we’ve seen an overall annualized water savings of 236 million gallons, 72 million of which is directly attributable to conservation and free-air cooling projects. We’ve strategically optimized our investment in energy projects to include conservation, free-air cooling and real estate divestment, which resulted in exceeding our water savings goal associated with mechanic cooling improvement.
  • Since the beginning of 2013, we have realized 107 million kWh of annualized electricity savings associated with free-air cooling projects.


Our Action

Water is deeply important to the communities in which we serve and our own operations. The network that forms the core of our business requires a controlled and cooled environment, and water is oftentimes a critical input to the cooling equipment we use to create those conditions. We’re working to manage our own water use, and at the same time we’re supporting the development of water management technology.

Our Operations

Water Management

In 2010, we embarked on a process of water self-discovery that started with our first water footprint. From this footprint, we recognized that this top-line number was insufficient, so we analyzed further, realizing that:

  • Our top 125 water-consuming facilities constitute almost 50 percent of our overall water consumption, and 
  • Thirty-eight of these 125 sites are in “high” or “very high” water stress regions, as determined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Water Tool.

Modeled after our Energy Scorecard, we’ve created a Water Scorecard to guide our management of tracking water usage at our facilities and identifying water-saving opportunities using an intuitive grading system.

Through our Water Scorecard, we found that cooling towers, which use evaporation to begin the mechanical cooling cycle, provide our biggest water-saving opportunity and best financial return. These pieces of equipment, which are often used to help chill large buildings, require large volumes of water – 25 percent of an office building’s daily water use on average – and even more in buildings such as data centers that have more heat-producing pieces of equipment than people. In this video, Tim Fleming, director of sustainability operations at AT&T, explains how cooling towers work and why they are water-intensive.

We evaluate our top 125 water consuming sites at the facility level across the country. This includes using the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) Global Water Tool to evaluate water risk over the next five years.

We’re also working toward a suite of water efficiency-related goals that we set in 2013. We purposely set these goals to establish good operational practices, push the limits of our expected savings estimates and stress the importance of sharing these findings with a broad audience. We’re working to:

  • Realize 150 million gallons — roughly 15 percent of cooling tower water use and 5 percent of total water use — of annualized water savings by the end of 2015.
  • Realize 400 million kWh in annualized electricity savings from free-air cooling projects by the end of 2015.

To help us reach our water efficiency goals, we’re implementing water conservation and free-air cooling projects. Since the beginning of 2013 we’ve seen an overall annualized water savings of 236 million gallons, 72 million of which is directly attributable to conservation and free-air cooling projects. We have also realized 107 million kWh of annualized electricity savings associated with free-air cooling projects.

  • In 2014, AT&T’s water conservation projects included:
    A water treatment control system in Madison, Wisconsin 
  • Optimizing performance at a cooling tower in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by making physical improvements and resetting water level controls.
  • Removing computer room cooling units and modifying air ducts to use existing air handling units in Columbus, Ohio

California

The importance of water was especially clear in 2014, when in response to the driest California year on record and the emergency drought declaration by Gov. Jerry Brown to conserve water, AT&T California President Ken McNeely asked AT&T’s 34,000 California employees to reduce their company water usage by 30 percent until the drought declaration lifted.

Conservation Projects

AT&T has deployed multiple water conservation projects across our California operations. These projects range from implementing water-saving technologies and landscaping at AT&T facilities, to utilizing free air cooling for some of our network equipment, to calling on our employees to reduce non-essential water use by 30 percent.

Working with EDF

In 2012, we began a multiyear engagement with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a set of tools and goals around cooling-related water efficiency. The result of our work was a Water Management Application, or WaterMAPP, toolkit of resources that can be used to manage water and identify opportunities for increased efficiency. EDF estimates the toolkit could help U.S. commercial buildings collectively realize up to 28 billion gallons of potential water savings annually.

During the process of working with EDF, we developed several fundamental educational and efficiency tools to develop a greater understanding and help clarify the process for water efficiency. In addition to these tools, our key finding was that the business case for water efficiency investment must take a comprehensive look at all cost savings – particularly related to electricity – that come from efficiency efforts.

That’s why we made our tools available to all organizations that could benefit from them. Over the course of 2013, EDF and AT&T distributed and promoted these tools to building owners who have the opportunity to reduce water usage and costs. We found it so useful that we encourage all companies to use it, and now the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) is working to expand the adoption of the toolkit so any organization or company can benefit.

Developing Solutions

AT&T products and services can also help others manage their water use. Our company provides connectivity for monitoring systems so that users can monitor their water use remotely and in real time.

For example, we worked with HydroPoint, a provider of smart water management solutions, to help their customers remotely monitor and manage their irrigation systems and ultimately save 15 billion gallons of water in a single year. Our M2M solution communicates in real time with thousands of HydroPoint end points over our wireless network and sends the data securely to the cloud to analyze climate and determine water needs. Click here to watch a video about AT&T and Hydropoint.

AT&T has also teamed up with Mueller Water Co. and IBM in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Global Smart Cities Challenge, where we will be deploying cellular based technology to demonstrate solutions that can be used to reduce and eliminate unnecessary water loss. Our team aims to place sensors in water distribution infrastructure to collect data about pressure, temperature and leak detection, then wirelessly transmit that data to a smart dashboard that is monitored by a utility. By investing in these solutions, utilities can proactively monitor water pressure while locating and resolving leaks. These technologies ensure security for our water distribution infrastructure while reducing unnecessary waste of this critical resource.

Working with Suppliers

Although we are not experiencing significant direct water risks from our supply chain, water is critical within our suppliers’ operations, and any impact they experience due to water risk, may affect our future business operations. This is why we’re working through our annual supply chain sustainability survey that includes an assessment of water use by our suppliers. The survey is sent to top suppliers – approximately 500 suppliers representing about 80% of spend. In 2014, we found that more than 100 suppliers have a water use policy, and more than 140 suppliers are tracking their water use. Additionally, more than 70 of our suppliers have water reduction goals. We will continue to assess our supply chain water use and progress annually.

For more information on all our efforts with suppliers, please see Engaging Our Supply Chain.



cooling_our_consumption-620

Updated on: Dec 29, 2015

×