Here's how Google's data centers use water

  • 23.11.2022
  • GreenBiz

When Google declared in September 2021 its intention to "replenish 120 percent of the water we consume" by 2030, the giant technology company revealed few specifics about exactly how many gallons that pledge represents for individual facilities. That said, its water stewardship team offered plenty of details about the ideas and partnerships it will use to achieve "water positivity."

On Monday, Google published some metrics it will use to benchmark that progress, focused predominantly on the data centers that drive its revenue, many of which rely on water to keep cool. Here’s the overall number to ponder: In 2021, Google’s global data centers consumed 4.3 billion gallons of water, or the amount of water it would take to irrigate 29 golf courses in the southwest U.S.

Considered another way, the average Google data center consumes 450,000 gallons of water on a daily basis. For those who love simple, everyday comparisons, that’s the amount of water required to grow cotton for 160 pairs of jeans, including the process of turning them into something in your closet. As far as U.S. data centers, Google’s facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, withdrew the most water during 2021 — a whopping 1.1 billion gallons — a factor that Google executives tie to the location’s status as one of its largest campuses.

"Servers are hot. We need to cool them," observed Google CSO Kate Brandt when we chatted about the company’s evolving water stewardship strategy. That framework has three primary pillars, Brandt said: advancing responsible water use across its facilities (not just the data centers); supporting work on supply and quality issues in the watersheds impacted by its business; and using its technology to help other organizations navigate water-related issues. (An example is FloodHub, which uses satellites and artificial intelligence to predict river flooding up to one week in advance, allowing for better planning.)