Microsoft Azure: New report reveals only 33 percent of operators have an adequate program to conserve water

Sep 20, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

We are living in an era where water stress and water scarcity are serious global issues that are only worsening. A total of 25% of the world's population is facing water stress and scarcity, and it's forecast that by as early as 2025, this could increase to 50% and by ​​2050, as much as 75% of the world's population may be affected. This has led to researchers placing the likelihood of water wars at between 75% - 95% in the next 50 to 100 years. With such concerning projections, there's an imperative to change the way we manage our water resources, and data centers are a crucial part of this, considering that the typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day. 

Yet, a new report by Morningstar Sustainalytics has revealed that data center firms are falling behind when it comes to water use management. According to the report, most companies within the industry don't have water strategies in place when it comes to data centers, or if they do, their strategies are largely lacking. The firm's analysis was based on water resource use management data for 122 companies in the tech and telecom sectors and found that of those that had water management programs, only 33% had an adequate program - comparatively, 61% were rated as having a weak program. Surprisingly, 64% of companies had physical climate risk management programs, but failed to incorporate water risk considerations into their strategic decision-making.

The firm's management indicator assesses factors such as whether a company: 
  • Has initiatives to reduce freshwater use, 
  • Has water reduction targets and deadlines, and 
  • Monitors and measures their water use. 

Morningstar also outlined that the majority of companies (84%) did not disclose the necessary data (such as water withdrawal or water consumption) to calculate their water intensity, which meant that it was not possible to calculate and benchmark their water intensity against peers.

Despite recent controversies around excessive water usage in the Netherlands, New Mexico, Arizona, and South Carolina, Microsoft was actually highlighted by the report for its water disclosure and management efforts. According to the report, the tech giant was the only company to receive top scores for its water risk management and water management program. Morningstar cited the company's recent investment in becoming water positive by 2030, as one of the reasons behind its success in this area. By integrating water risks into their regular risk assessments and into their business strategy and employing technologies such as its Smart Water Navigator and adiabatic cooling, Microsoft has managed to get ahead in the rankings. Likewise, Microsoft has also been investing in water conservation projections and exploring the feasibility of underwater data centers. 

The tech giant is certainly making a lot of big, green pledges and appears to be leading the way regarding sustainability; however, in order for real change to be enacted, others in the industry need to follow suit, and prioritize water management and water conservation in their climate change mitigation efforts. 

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