Google to replenish 120% of its water use as droughts grip western US

US company uses water to cool its data centres that make products like Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Search possible

People walk in Google's main campus in Mountain View, California. The company has committed to running all of its campuses and data centres on carbon-free energy by 2030. AFP
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Google has pledged to give back more water than it consumes by 2030 and support water security in communities where it operates as water scarcity becomes a major problem in the drought-stricken western US.

The Alphabet-owned company aims to replenish up to 120 per cent of the water it uses, on average, across its offices and data centres, the California-headquartered technology giant said.

Our water stewardship journey will involve continuously enhancing our water use and consumption
Kate Brandt, Google’s chief sustainability officer

Under this initiative, Google is focusing on three key areas — safeguarding water resources across offices and data centres; improving watershed health and ecosystems in water-stressed communities; and sharing technology and tools that help societies predict, prevent and recover from water stress.

“We will identify opportunities to use freshwater alternatives - whether that's seawater or reclaimed wastewater,” Google’s chief sustainability officer Kate Brandt said.

“We are 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,” she added.

Google uses water to cool its data centres that make products like Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Search possible.

The company has faced protests from communities in the close proximity to its data centre in South Carolina and a new one to be built in Arizona.

A severe drought, tied to climate change, has gripped over 93 per cent of California - home to Google’s headquarters, US Drought Monitor has reported. And about 95 per cent of Nevada, where Google has two data centres, is similarly parched.

Heatwaves and droughts have also made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Industry experts say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.

“Water security is an issue that goes beyond our operations and it is not something we can solve alone. In partnership with others, we will invest in community projects that replenish 120 per cent of the water we consume,” Ms Brandt said.

The company, which has committed to run all of its campuses and data centres on carbon-free energy by 2030, is using reclaimed wastewater to cool its data centre in Georgia to improve its operational water sustainability.

Google has also partnered with the UN Environment Programme and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre to create the Freshwater Ecosystems Explorer tool that tracks surface water changes over time on a national and local scale.

It also rolled out a new free training programme to help small businesses in the UK reduce their carbon emissions.

It has developed the training in partnership with leading sustainability and net-zero certification group Planet Mark as part of the UK government’s Together for our Planet Business Climate Leaders campaign, which encourages small businesses to commit to cutting their emissions in half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.

“Small businesses make up 99 per cent of the UK’s business community so they will play a crucial role in reaching net zero,” Google’s vice president and managing director at UK and Ireland Ronan Harris said.

“Yet, understandably, small businesses don’t always have the time, resources or expertise to dedicate to this — especially as they focus on recovery from the pandemic,” he added.

Updated: September 10, 2021, 8:11 PM