What Does Being Water Positive Mean?
The idea of becoming water positive has turned into something of a buzzword for big corporations around the world over the last few years, with the likes of BP, PepsiCo, Microsoft, Facebook and many more pledging to take action where water is concerned over the next decade or so.
Of course, any and all action being taken to address the issues of water stress and scarcity and start operating more sustainably is certainly welcome news – but what exactly is water positivity and what must be done in order to achieve it?
What is water positivity?
Essentially, becoming water positive means that companies pledge to replenish more water than they use (where water usage is defined as total water consumption). This not only covers water usage and consumption across the entire enterprise in question, but also takes into account facilities around the world where the companies have operations and suppliers.
Most companies have pledged to become water positive by 2030, but it’s important to note that the definition of what constitutes water use varies from company to company, so some brands will likely go further with their ambitions than others when it comes to reducing their overall business water footprint.
How do you achieve water positivity?
There are two main ways in which companies can go about achieving water positivity. Firstly, they can look at how to reduce their water consumption across their business operations and industrial processes and, secondly, they can work to replenish resources in water-stressed regions through water catchment area programmes.
Within their own operations, companies can reduce their water footprint by prioritising water-saving strategies, whether that’s rainwater harvesting, water recycling, water leak detection and repair and so on. It will also be necessary to look at the wider supply chain and localise services where possible in order to achieve water neutrality and water positivity.
The added benefit of doing this is that you can build business resilience at the same time by reducing reliance on suppliers that have their own specific set of water stress and scarcity issues.
Where it isn’t possible to change suppliers in water-stressed regions, business impacts can be mitigated through the implementation of water catchment area initiatives. This could include investing in the likes of recharge wells, ponds, dams and canals in the region or leading community schemes to ensure responsible and sustainable water management in the future.
Case study: Amazon Web Services
As for most businesses, for Amazon Web Services (AWS), water is one of its most essential resources, primarily used to cool data centres all over the world.
Because of this, responsible use of resources has to be a top priority – and the company is now involved in a series of different projects to both reduce the amount of water used but also to increase the amount of water that’s returned to the environment, part of its commitment to being water positive by 2030.
AWS’s particular water positive pledge involves four main areas of focus: efficiency, recycling, reuse and replenishment. To help it achieve its goals, the company is working closely with global nonprofit organisations to replenish water-stressed regions and return water to the local communities in which it operates.
Its data centres remain one of its top priorities, however, with AWS now working to improve efficiencies and increase the use of more sustainable water sources.
Its preferred cooling strategy for its facilities features evaporative technologies, where hot air is pulled from outside and pushed through cooling pads soaked in water. This water then evaporates and cools the air being funnelled into the server rooms.
It also uses a free-air cooling system, with sensors installed to track temperature and humidity. Once conditions reach a safe operating range, the evaporative system is turned off and cool air from outside is used to regulate server room temperature.
In both Ireland and Sweden, for example, AWS no longer uses water to keep its data centres cool for an impressive 95 per cent of the year, using free-cooling technology instead.f
But that’s not all… AWS has also made investments in its water treatment systems and is now filtering out more scale-forming minerals than ever before, so it is able to recycle more water on site and minimise the amount needed for cooling. Real-time data is used to find leaks quickly, as well as trialling new treatment technologies.
Case study: Microsoft
Over the last few years, Microsoft has committed to becoming a carbon negative zero waste company, with the aim being to devise a new planetary computing platform that can transform how it monitors models and manages earth’s natural systems.
And in 2020, it announced that it would be forging ahead with plans to become water positive for its direct operations by 2030 by reducing its water usage intensity and replenishing water in those water-stressed regions where it operates.
As part of its replenishment strategy, Microsoft will be investing in projects like wetland restoration, and the removal of hard surfaces like tarmac and paving that contribute to surface water runoff, which will see more water replenished in the basins where it’s needed the most.
It will also continue to further its ongoing investments across its operational base, including a sustainability design standard that requires water conservation at all Microsoft locations around the world.
This includes the new Silicon Valley campus, which recently opened in California and which is home to an onsite rainwater collection system and waste treatment plan. The hope is that this will ensure that 100 per cent of the site’s non-potable water comes from recycled sources on site.
An integrated water management system is also in place that will see rainwater and wastewater will be managed and reused. It’s expected that by using water recycling technology, the campus will save a predicted 4.3 million gallons of potable water annually.