In recent months, Microsoft has revealed a series of innovative strategies to help the company reach its sustainability goals. In July, the company announced that it had used hydrogen fuel cells to power data center servers over the course of 48 hours. Earlier this month, Microsoft ended a multi-year study with positive initial results testing the reliability and practicality of underwater datacenters. On Monday, the company announced it would be “water positive,” meaning it would consume less water than it would replenish, by the end of the decade.
“We’re tackling our water consumption in two ways: Reducing our water use intensity–or the water we use per megawatt of energy used for our operations–and replenishing water in the water-stressed regions we operate,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith in a press release.
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In the release, Microsoft details the challenges associated with access to drinking water worldwide. Clean drinking water is a scarce commodity around the globe. For example, nearly 800 million people lack a basic drinking water service, per UN data. Half of all people around the globe will live in the aforementioned “water-stressed” areas by 2025, according to the UN.
Climate change is increasing water stress and decreasing access to safe drinking water. Maximizing existing clean water resources and increasing access will become critical to global public health in the years ahead.
“Getting ahead of the world’s water crisis will require a reduction in the amount of water humans use to operate economies and societies, as well as a concerted effort to ensure there is sufficient water in the places it is needed most. This will require a transformation in the way we manage our water systems and a concerted effort for all organizations to account for and balance their water use,” Smith said.
To address this issue, Microsoft introduced its “replenishment strategy.” This will involve wetland restoration investments as well as initiatives to remove impervious surfaces such as asphalt. Reducing such surfaces “will help replenish water back into the basins,” according to the company. These efforts will be focused on about 40 “highly stressed basins” proximal to Microsoft operations.
These latest initiatives are supplemental to ongoing Microsoft projects to help the company achieve its replenishment goals. For example, the company’s Silicon Valley campus (set to open later in 2020) includes rainwater collection and waste treatment facilities designed to ensure that all of the campus’ non-potable water will be provided by recycled sources onsite, according to Microsoft. The company’s Puget Sound headquarters will reuse harvested rainwater in restroom fixtures and leverage low-flow designs projected to save nearly 6 million gallons of water each year, per Microsoft.
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In Arizona, a new Microsoft data center will use adiabatic cooling allowing the company to cool the facility without water more than six months of the year. Rather than tapping water for cooling, the method uses outside air when the temperature is under 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Above this temperature threshold, the facility uses evaporative cooling similar to residential swamp coolers, according to the company.