By Tim Fleming, Director of Sustainability Operations, AT&T
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over 48 percent of the United States was in drought status as of May 2014. 77 percent of California is now considered to be in “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Parts of the Plains states are experiencing drought circumstances comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl. In 2012, drought conditions cost a record $30 billion in damage.
Water shortages aren’t likely to slow down, since population growth in drought-prone states including CA, TX, AZ, NV, and CO is booming. Although businesses are prospering in many of these water-stressed states, the effects of growing populations, limited resources, and increasing consumption are a triple threat to companies of any size.
The 2014 Protect The Flows case study identifies a lack of water security as one of the top 10 risks to businesses today. While the overall price of water has remained fairly constant, research shows that this could change rapidly as drought conditions persist and supplies dwindle in water-stressed regions. Now is the time for companies to take the lead in reducing their water consumption, helping to improve both their bottom line and our nation’s water security.
At AT&T, a company that may not come to mind as one that needs to think about water usage, we looked to our building portfolio to measure our water consumption. Buildings at many companies use a significant amount of water to cool machines and people. Our first step, in 2010, was to perform a water analysis and establish a measurement of our water footprint. After discovering that 50 percent of our total water use came from just 125 buildings, a relatively small segment of our real estate operations, we began to examine how we could more effectively manage water at those sites and apply those practices across our business. Our goal was to improve our water efficiency through investments in sustainable facility management practices.
We quickly realized the most significant opportunity to make an impact was to focus on our cooling. To help us find the most effective methods of reducing our water consumption, and to build the case for improved water efficiency, we collaborated with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Over the course of one year, we deployed several pilot programs at our top water consumption sites.
The results were overwhelmingly positive—realizing water savings ranging from 14-40 percent. This translated to operational savings. For example, a $4,000 equipment upgrade for free air cooling—using outside air to cool the building—produced $40,000 in savings, and a cooling tower filtration system upgrade of less than $100,000 produced $60,000 in annual savings, paying for itself in less than two years.
Beyond the success at these individual sites, the pilot with EDF resulted in two primary outcomes:
- AT&T has set a goal 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.
- AT&T and EDF have integrated a water efficiency calculator and scorecard into training materials, infographics, audit forms and other resources. The calculator can be used to develop a business case for a water management program and is available for free in the AT&T/EDF Water Efficiency Toolkit.
EDF estimates the toolkit could help U.S. commercial buildings collectively realize up to 28 billion gallons of potential water savings annually. Through our collaboration with EDF, we have made the water toolkit and supporting resources available as a free download for any business, large or small, to use. As we continue on our water journey and make progress towards our goals in conserving water, we encourage other organizations to use the toolkit to help them achieve their water goals. Together, our impact could be incredible.
This post orignially appeared on The Hill on June 9.
KEYWORDS: Environment and Climate Change, drought, EDF, Protect the Flows, Water Conservation, Toolkit, Environmental Defense Fund, att, AT&T, csr