Google joins Microsoft and Facebook by pledging to replenish more water than it consumes by 2030

Google has become the latest tech giant to publicly commit to ensuring that its global operations, including its datacentres, will return more water to the environment than they consume by 2030.

The internet search and cloud giant made the declaration in a blog post, authored by the firm’s chief sustainability officer, Kate Brandt, who said Google has committed to replenishing “120% of the water” it consumes across its offices and datacentres by 2030.

The company said it plans to achieve its goal by investing in water replenishment projects and initiatives that are geared towards improving the health of local river drainage basins in areas near where it has offices and datacentres.

“At our datacentres, we’ll identify opportunities to use freshwater alternatives where possible – whether that’s seawater or reclaimed wastewater,” said Brandt.

“When it comes to our office campuses, we’re looking to use more on-site water sources – such as collected stormwater and treated wastewater – to meet our non-potable water needs, like landscape irrigation, cooling and toilet flushing.”

The company also plans to make tools and technologies “universally available” to communities, policymakers and planners that will allow them to measure and predict water availability more effectively, the blog post added.

In support of this part of its pledge, the company said it had already formed alliances with academic and government research teams to co-develop an app for use by farmers and landowners, called OpenET, that uses satellite-based data to show where water moves to when it evaporates.

It has also worked with the United Nations Environment Programme and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre to create another tool that tracks surface water changes over time on a national and local scale, said Brandt.

“Water security is an issue that goes beyond our operations, and it’s not something we can solve alone,” she added.

Google’s water replenishment strategy marks a broadening out of its datacentre sustainability commitments, which have tended to focus in the past on improving the energy efficiency of its sites, as well as curbing the amount of carbon emissions they generate.

That said, the company’s 2020 Environmental Report, which charts the work Google is doing across its entire organisation to reduce its environmental impact, suggests that efforts to curb the amount of water its offices and datacentres consume have been going on for a while.

“Examples of sustainable water management practices in our datacentres include the use of innovative cooling options where possible, such as sea water in Finland, industrial canal water in Belgium, and recycled waste water in the United States at our site in Douglas County, Georgia,” said the report.

“In Ireland, we optimise water use by employing cooling using outside air. We also recirculate water within our systems multiple times to get more out of every drop we use.”

Google is also far from alone in setting out plans to address how much water its operations consume, as social networking giant Facebook went public with its plan to become a “water-positive” entity by 2030 in August 2021.

Microsoft made a near-identical pledge in September 2020 to embark on a series of actions that will serve to ensure that it replenishes more water than its operations consume by 2030 as well.

The reasons for this trend can be attributed to the fact that the water consumption habits of datacentres are coming under increased scrutiny from government policy-makers and environmentalists.

This is on the back of predictions about how climate change and population growth trends are set to lead to increased water scarcity in drought-prone regions of the world, which, in turn, is prompting questions about the steps society can take to guard against exacerbating the problem.

Datacentre operators are renowned for using vast quantities of water to cool their facilities due to their reliance on evaporative and adiabatic cooling systems, which is one of the reasons why they are being challenged to take steps to curb how much of it they consume.