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AWS plans to be 'water positive' by 2030

A number of projects will seek to improve groundwater replenishment, efficiency, and overall sustainability

A hand holds a phone bearing the AWS logo, while the Amazon logo shows in the background

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced that by 2030, it will return more water to communities around the world than it uses in its direct operations.

To reach this goal, the cloud giant has focused on four strategic areas: increasing the efficiency of water usage, ensuring water comes from sustainable sources where possible, returning water to communities, and expanding water replenishment activities.

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AWS said it has deployed Internet of Things (IoT) devices to analyse water usage in real time, and also uses outside air to cool centres where possible, such as its data centres in Ireland and Sweden that require no water for cooling for 95% of the year. Efficiency increases have the added benefit of reducing the costs of running data centres, which have been greatly exacerbated by the energy crisis.

AWS is also undertaking a number of projects to improve the replenishment of water in communities, to improve the quality of water tables, and increase the accessibility of clean water and sanitation in underserved communities. The firm will support nonprofit Water.org to expand water access to 250,000 people in India and Indonesia, in addition to its previous announcement of $10 million towards a Water.org fund aimed at helping 100 million people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

In the UK, AWS is to create two wetlands on a tributary of the River Thames, in collaboration with The Rivers Trust and Action for the River Kennet. It's hoped this will improve overall water quality in the area, and replenish its groundwater at a rate of more than 587 million litres per year.

“England’s rivers are a national treasure, and we are thrilled to partner with AWS to help protect the River Thames and its tributaries by working with our member trusts in the area,” said Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust.

“AWS’ commitment to be water positive by 2030 will drive action needed to help restore the rivers and water resources impacted by climate change. We are looking forward to growing our relationship with AWS and using this partnership to demonstrate a similar path other businesses can take to support collaborative water stewardship activities that improve the resilience of our rivers.”

Where possible, the company has aimed to use water that is recyclable and only suitable for irrigation and industrial use, in order to conserve local drinking water and allow spent water to be passed on to other community members, such as farmers. Although recycled water is only used in 20 of its data centres worldwide, AWS plans to expand this in line with its water positive goal.

“Water scarcity is a major issue around the world and with today’s water positive announcement we are committing to do our part to help solve this rapidly growing challenge,” said Adam Selipsky, CEO of AWS.

“In just a few years half of the world’s population is projected to live in water-stressed areas, so to ensure all people have access to water, we all need to innovate new ways to help conserve and reuse this precious resource. While we are proud of the progress we have made, we know there is more we can do. We are committed to leading on water stewardship in our cloud operations, and returning more water than we use in the communities where we operate. We know this is the right thing to do for the environment and our customers.”

News of the goal was shared at AWS re:Invent, the firm’s annual conference held in Las Vegas. In the same announcement, AWS also revealed that its 2021 global water use efficiency (WUE) metric was 0.25 litres of water per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Going forward, AWS has committed to annual reports on its WUE, water reuse and recycling work, as well as new practices and updates to existing work in order to reduce overall water usage.

The WUE metric was developed by the nonprofit industry consortium The Green Grid, whose goal is to improve the sustainability of data centres, and is used to measure the amount of water consumed for functions such as cooling.  A 2016 report by the US Department of Energy stated that the average WUE of a data centre is 1.8 litres per kWh, while a Microsoft Azure blog post from April 2022 stated that Azure’s global WUE average was 0.49 litres per kWh.

Sustainability has been identified by Gartner as the key strategic technology trend for 2023, and is increasingly being cited as a good investment against disruption by business leaders. As the climate crisis looms and businesses seek to shield themselves from long-term economic hardship, sustainability projects are becoming increasingly core to business strategy, as well as a major focus of younger workers seeking purpose in their roles.

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