World Water Day is about what water means to humanity, its true value and how we can better protect this vital resource. This day celebrates water and raises awareness of the global water crisis, and a core focus of the observance is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Water means different things to different people.

  • The average African survives on 10 litres of water a day
  • The average European uses 400 litres, while the average North American consumes 600 litres per day
  • An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water
  • An estimated 2.4 billion people worldwide have no sanitation
  • Every day, 14,000 people die worldwide, because the water they drink contains   untreated sewage or dangerous chemicals

And the list goes on...

Now, as a leading company in the cloud infrastructure provision and data center operations business, World Water Days is also about questioning our industry’s water consumption practices and about proposing credible ways forward to make sure we collectively take responsibility to preserve our first indispensable resource.


Water: the taboo in the data center industry

On June 24, 2015, The Wall Street Journal published an article focusing on data center water usage, “Data Centers and Hidden Water Use.” With the industry still dealing with environmental scrutiny over carbon emissions, and water scarcity poised to be the next major resource to be publicly examined, our customers need to have a better understanding of the pressing issue the data center industry is facing around water consumption.

It is unacceptable that today, in 2021, we still omit water consumption from the equation when calculating a data center’s responsibility and efficiency.
The near-unwavering focus of the industry on energy performance has led to other key factors in environmental performance, such as water efficiency, being neglected.
There is a rush on the part of many data centers, the ones lauded for their efforts, to be able to use the marketing sheen of the terms “energy efficient”, but behind this slogan are some unspeakable practices which must disappear... the waste of millions of cubic metres of drinking water in cooling towers to cool data centers, a process that is characterized by considerable environmental and health risk. This practice, which is nearly banned in France, persists in some European countries and needs to be globally regulated. It’s time to face the unforgivable consequences of cooling towers and actually take tangible steps towards change and ban them in Europe.


At Scaleway, what are we doing to save water?

We dare to take measurements!

For Scaleway, its WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness) is a crucial indicator of its environmental impact. As the first cloud provider to bring the use of water in data centers to the conversation, Scaleway bans practices which consume high quantities of water and present health risks such as water cooling towers, and aims to have a WUE lower than 0.15 (market average at 1.8) as of today.
Beyond measuring the WUE, our approach also consists in combining the PUE and the Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE), to relate them to each other and to the actual use of each in data centers. The rDCE (real data center efficiency) is measured in megawatt hours (MWh), and used to weight the PUE and the WUE measurements in relation to distributed uses, not in relation to the most efficient datacenter, which would be too easy and misleading.

We have eco-designed, built and have been operating one of the most sustainable data centers in Europe, and we are proud to offer our clients high environmental performance products. Today, we are continuing to consolidate our position as a major European public cloud committed to fighting climate change through energy efficiency, circular economy and water savings.

The key: innovating where sustainable actions count most - at the source

There is so much scope for innovation in this sector, and not just any innovation, innovation that makes sense. It’s up to all of us as customers, and digital stakeholders, to make these changes.
The environmental responsibility of this industry now needs to be focused on these mutually dependent pillars: the supply and intrinsic energy efficiency of the data center, and water usage and preservation. By making the right ethical, regulatory and technological choices, the benefits of global digitalization will not be outweighed by damaging ecological impacts. We are committed to dealing with the subject at the source by measuring all of our activities with a weighted indicator.

We need environmental policies at European level which take into account water in the cloud and datacenter industry

Towards the end of 2019, the European Commission (EC) presented the Green Deal roadmap as a response for a sustainable digital transition. While the cloud is still in its first stages of development, it is time—now more than ever—to make forward-thinking decisions in order for the benefits of the new digital economy to trump the harmful ecological, social and health consequences. There are no doubts: Europe is the right level to shape public policies with a large scale impact

Concrete measures can be taken, there is no shortage of ideas in this respect. For instance, the practice of using water cooling towers practices in data centers still persists in some European countries. Given their extremely detrimental impact on the environment, we believe tangible steps should be made at EU level to change and ban them on our continent.

The development of alternatives to air conditioning could also be further encouraged and highlighted by policy makers, and innovation incentivized, either fiscally or through preferential public procurement access.

It is also essential to agree, at EU level, on a WUE methodology, to make sure that, when we refer to water consumption and efficiency targets, we all speak the same language.

On all this, a real challenge will be not to leave the field open for non-European players to dictate the level of the European Union’s ambitions in terms of digital ecology.

In a nutshell: efficiency and transparency, pillars of our industry’s sustainable transformation

The environmental responsibility of this industry now needs to be focused on these mutually dependent pillars: the supply and intrinsic energy efficiency of the data center, and water usage and preservation. By making the right ethical, regulatory and technological choices, the benefits of global digitalization will not be outweighed by damaging ecological impacts. We are committed to dealing with the subject at the source by measuring all of our activities with a weighted indicator.

We are determined to become the most efficient and most transparent cloud worldwide. Our commitments cover four key strategic areas:

  • Controlling energy and water consumption with a weighted index that goes well beyond the simple PUE indicator
  • Advocating for water conservation and efficiency
  • Defending the circular economy
  • Raising awareness around transparency and empowering our clients with line-by-line usage and environmental impact on each invoice by 2021

We hope this is a stepping stone toward a more sustainable industry. We call on the industry to #ComeGreen and follow our model, especially with regard to banning water cooling towers and bringing more transparency to the market. It's what makes sense!