AT&T: Want to save water? Look at building cooling towers

Telecommunications giant teams with Environmental Defense Fund to seek operational savings that marry energy and water consumption efficiency.

Access to fresh water is something that many of us in the developed world take for granted, until a local summer drought reminds us that it isn't exactly an unlimited resource.

That realization increasingly is one being pondered and debated in board rooms and staff meetings, and increasingly water consumption management has become a part of corporate sustainability strategy and discussions. You can think of this as a preemptive discussion: sooner or later, it is reasonable to expect that water costs for businesses will skyrocket the way that electricity costs have done over the past decade. Cutting consumption isn't strictly an environmental nice-to-have, it's a smart thing to do for the business over time.

In that vein, telecommunications giant AT&T has teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to get a better grip on its water consumption across thousands of facilities globally -- and how decreasing that consumption can drive cost savings across the entire operation.

An initial footprinting exercise of AT&T's water consumption, done back in 2010, showed that almost half of the company's entire 3.4 billion gallon water consumption that year was related to just 120 facilities. Mind you, AT&T manages thousands of facilities in the United States alone.

Within those buildings, the cool towers were the biggest culprit. Generally speaking, EDF uses figures suggesting that roughly 25 percent of a given building's water consumption is related to the cooling towers that are used for climate control. So, that's where AT&T plans to focus its attention: in particular, it will look at ways to get rid of some cooling towers by using outdoor air.

Aha! Another example of a place where energy efficiency and water efficiency strategy could go hand-in-hand.

The fact is, AT&T already was looking at cooling as a means of saving electricity in many of its massive data centers -- and free air or outside air cooling design is one of the logical approaches that many businesses are beginning to use to pull this off. Hey, doing this could save electricity and water? No brainer.

In a blog about the project, AT&T and EDF write:

"Quick calculations suggest that improving operations in the cooling tower at AT&T's largest facilities could save millions of gallons per year. Adopted on a broad scale, these solutions could save billions of gallons of water annually."

AT&T figures that changes in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas alone, for example, could result in a 13 percent decrease in water usage across the region. Considering the drought in Texas last summer, that is a huge deal.

Over time, as water rates creep up across the United States -- or as they tier further in terms of commercial and residential usage -- it will become increasingly common for businesses to look for ways to marry their energy efficiency strategy with water efficiency initiatives. Is your company going with the flow?

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