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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

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 analysis. From this analysis, we recognized that our top-line number was insufficient to understand our water use, 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 tracking and management of 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 established a suite of water efficiency-related goals 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. In 2013, we established the following goals:

  • 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.

In 2015 we continued to implement water conservation and free-air cooling projects to support our water efficiency goals and by the end of 2015, we met or exceeded our goals. Since the beginning of 2013, we’ve seen an overall annualized water savings of 271 million gallons.  We realized 534 million kWh of annualized electricity savings associated with both free-air cooling projects the reduction of mechanical refrigeration. The reduction of mechanical refrigeration is important to include as it as it consumes a great deal of water.

In 2015, AT&T’s water conservation projects included:

  • Convert lawn to DRYSCAPE/remove trees/drip irrigation/60 low flow flushometers and cooling tower filtration/louvers in Sacramento, CA
  • Replace failed well water Alyan pump skid in Wayne, PA
  • Reduce water usage in Dallas, TX

New 2020 Goal

We continue to look for opportunities to reduce the amount of water we use to power the network. AT&T has previously committed to reducing our electricity consumption relative to data growth on our network by 60 percent by 2020. We look forward to doing the same with water and are committed to reducing the water consumption of our company relative to data growth on our network by 60% by 2020 (using 2013 baseline). 


Our water management efforts are company-wide and are felt in every area we operate, both in the US and abroad. However, we are keenly aware of the particular challenges being faced in California as the state feels the impacts of a multi-year drought.

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. We also implemented a water dashboard in California that monitors over 850 locations. The dashboard allows our property managers to look for anomalies based on historical trend data.

AT&T challenged its 37,000 California employees to reduce non-essential water usage 30% by not washing our fleet of more than 15,000 vehicles, reducing facility landscape irrigation by half, turning off decorative water features and fountains at corporate buildings, and remaining vigilant in identifying any sources of water waste.

California’s water distribution systems are reported to lose up to 228 billion gallons annually due to leaks — more than enough to supply the entire city of Los Angeles for a year. AT&T is part of an effort that is now testing a wireless technology solution for cities and water utilities to detect and help prevent water leaks in municipal water infrastructure.

In September 2015, AT&T collaborated with industry experts to convene a meeting at the California Farm Bureau Federation.  AT&T, along with more than 40 experts and influencers from organizations including Cisco Systems, Alliance for Water Efficiency, Internet of Everything, California Rangeland Trust, Irrigation Association and USDA NRCS, gathered to explore how technology can be better utilized for improving water efficiency and solutions for California farmers and ranchers.

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.

We’ve collaborated around water management solutions since 2012 when we engaged 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, a toolkit of resources that can be used to manage water and identify opportunities for increased efficiency. 

Working with Suppliers

Although we are not experiencing significant direct water risks from our supply chain, water is critical to our suppliers’ operations, and any impact they experience due to water risk, may affect our future business operations. This is why we conduct an 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 our total annual spend.  In 2015, we found that more than 130 suppliers have a water use policy, and more than 150 suppliers are tracking their water use.  Additionally, more than 100 of our suppliers have water reduction goals.  We 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

Updated on: Aug 2, 2016