Swimming Pools, Summer Sweaters and Air Conditioning


Earlier this year, I wrote about the benefits of telecommuting. While telecommuting is proven to help minimize the environmental impact of the commute to work, what about those of us who commute to and work in massive, temperature-controlled buildings? These buildings can be a huge drain on increasingly scarce water resources – and one big way they use water may be surprising to you.

As temperatures rise this summer, and we duck into our offices for HVAC-cooled comfort, it’s worth pointing out that many of our cooling systems can use as much as 25 percent of a building’s water requirements. For a company like AT&T (that uses about 3.4 billion gallons of water a year), the water we use to support our operations each year is enough to fill more than 5,100 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

So we’re teaming up with our friends at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to understand how we and other building operators can do better. This isn’t our first engagement with EDF. For the past two years, we’ve participated in their EDF Climate Corps program, uncovering potential business savings through investments in lighting efficiencies and cooling efficiencies. But it was the last project that got us thinking about how we can cool our buildings with, well, less chill. EDF posted this blog in May describing the project that’s just kicked off. We’re eager to learn what will happen when we tackle water and energy efficiency together. We’re starting with some focused pilot sites, with the hope that the benefits we achieve can expand to more AT&T facilities.  This project could mean less water use (particularly important in our water-strapped communities), less waste, and lower costs.

AT&T is far from alone in wanting to understand how we can be better stewards of this most precious resource. A recent Verdantix study reveals water management has become an increasingly visible issue within corporate sustainability.  In other words, smart water management not only makes good environmental sense, but it makes good business sense as well.  And this project with EDF is targeting a way to make that business case even more compelling.

So as office workers everywhere reach for their sweaters in the middle of summer, we’ll be reaching into our cooling systems. Stay tuned for more information about what we discover.
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