Facebook has unveiled the next phase of its sustainability strategy, which will see the social networking giant work towards becoming water-positive by 2030.
The company has publicly committed to ensuring that its global operations, including its datacentres, will return more water to the environment than they consume by that date.
“Reaching this ambitious goal will require a combination of water restoration efforts starting in regions that are highly water-stressed, as well as technologies to increase the water efficiency at our facilities,” the company said in a blog post.
Finding ways to curb the amount of water the company uses is not a new endeavour for Facebook, with the blog post going on to detail the water conservation work the firm has undertaken over the past decade, particularly where its datacentres are concerned.
“Over the last decade, these technologies, including allowing our datacentres to be cooled with outside air, have enabled our datacentres to operate 80% more water efficiently on average compared to the industry standard,” said the blog post.
“And we see opportunities for additional gains in the coming years, particularly as our infrastructure grows, and we’ll need to develop water-efficient designs for different climates.”
The switch to fresh-air cooling will have contributed to reducing the amount of water its datacentres consume directly, but Facebook has also made a concerted effort in recent years to ensure its operations are powered exclusively by renewable energy sources.
These efforts resulted in the firm achieving its twin goals of being powered by 100% renewable energy and achieving net-zero carbon emissions last year.
The success of its transition to becoming exclusively reliant on renewable energy has also had a positive impact on its water conservation habits, as the process of generating power from fossil fuels consumes a lot of water too.
“Our commitment to renewable energy has provided hundreds of billions of gallons of water savings since wind and solar use less water than fossil fuels,” said the blog post.
The company claims to have invested in a series of water restoration projects that are projected to replenish more than 850 million gallons of water a year, and in 2020 alone contributed to 595 million gallons being restored to water-stressed areas.
“These efforts range from sustaining aquatic habitats by supplying fresh water to river systems during dry seasons, to modernising agricultural irrigation infrastructure to reduce the amount of water being extracted from at-risk sources,” it added.
Facebook is the second tech giant to commit to becoming a “water-positive” entity by 2030. Microsoft made a near-identical pledge in September 2020 to embark on a series of actions that will serve to ensure that it replenishes more water than its operations consume by the same end date.
As detailed in a blog post the company published at the time, these actions include reducing its water use intensity by curbing the amount it consumes per megawatt of energy used to power its global operations. It also vowed to replenish supplies in any water-stressed or drought-prone areas in which it operates.
The amount of water that datacentres consume is coming under increased scrutiny from government policy-makers and environmentalists, as the looming threat of climate change becomes ever more real.
How much of a problem this is depends on whether or not the datacentre in question is located in a region that is prone to drought or water-stress, and relies on water-based cooling systems to regulate the temperature of its environments.
Datacentre operators are typically cagey about revealing details of how much water their sites consume, with Facebook emerging as something of an anomaly by providing real-time updates of the energy and water efficiency of its datacentres since 2013.