How Collaboration Helps AT&T Reduce Energy and Water Use

AT&T retailThere are two things that jump out at you while reading through AT&T’s 2012 Sustainability Report: the company has ambitious goals to reduce energy and water use, and the company collaborates with various groups, including nonprofits, to meet those goals. The collaborations are paying off as AT&T is close to meeting its 2014 goal to reduce energy intensity 60 percent from a 2008 baseline. Last year, the company achieved a 57 percent reduction. AT&T surpassed its goal of having five megawatts (MW) of additional installations of alternative energy by installing seven MW in 2012.

There are three main collaborations that have helped AT&T reach its energy and water usage reduction goals: with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and with the City of Chicago. AT&T collaborated with EDF to reduce the amount of water used to keep large buildings cool. Cooling towers are used to help cool large buildings, and they need large amounts of water. They use about 25 percent of an office building’s daily water use, on average, but more in buildings like data centers that have more heat-producing pieces of equipment than people. AT&T ran a series of test pilots with EDF across the U.S in 2012 to test ways to reduce water used in the cooling process through operational improvements, technical upgrades or switching to free air cooling.

Some pilots were very promising, and others didn’t produce the results expected. AT&T is making its tools to reduce water use available to all organizations that could benefit from them. Both EDF and AT&T are distributing and promoting those tools throughout this year to building owners who want to reduce water usage and costs. One of those tools is the Water Score Card Toolkit, which provides an organization with a “single and clear metric” to quantify the overall effectiveness of the water management program at its facilities.

John Schulz, Director of Sustainability Operations at AT&T, said in an interview that the company “worked internally to develop a water footprint.” He added that “there was a moment we realized we needed third party expertise.” That’s why the company turned to EDF, who “brought in additional expertise and fresh eyes and questions.”

AT&T participates in RMI’s Portfolio Energy RetroFit Challenge to investigate and implement deep energy conservation measure across its office building portfolio. Schulz calls RMI a “wonderful organization that focuses on efficiency as the ‘greatest tool.’” According to Schulz, it makes sense to work with RMI because the organization’s focus is to scale efforts to already existing buildings. Since AT&T has many buildings, working with RMI is a “good match,” as Schulz puts it.

AT&T participated in Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative to reduce energy use at its downtown Chicago facility. Since AT&T looks at sustainability from a community perspective, it made perfect sense to participate in the initiative. In 2012, AT&T decided to have its one million square foot downtown Chicago facility, built in 1965, join the Initiative. The main benefit of the collaboration with the City of Chicago, as Schulz stated, is “implementing a program with a city and sharing it.”

AT&T uses fuel cell installations to power facilities in California and Connecticut

The company’s most successful alternative energy initiative, in terms of scalability and return-on-investment, is the second wave of onsite Bloom Energy’s fuel cell installations at facilities in California and Connecticut. When fully operational, the fuel cells, which produce clean and affordable onsite energy, will reduce carbon emissions by about 50 percent and virtually eliminate all sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions. In 2011, AT&T announced its contract with Bloom Energy to deploy MW to power 28 sites in California and Connecticut. The 28 Bloom Boxes produce a total of 149 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy a year. AT&T is Bloom Energy’s largest non-utility customer.

AT&T does have solar installations in California and New Jersey, and solar power was the company’s “first foray into renewable energy,” Schulz said. AT&T was running out of the opportunities to make the business case for solar because solar is dependent on the availability of the sun. Fuel cells “provide constant energy flow,” and that’s the reason why the company started the pilot program with Bloom.

Photo: Flickr user, Jim Carroll

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by