Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Monday revealed that it plans to be water positive, giving back more water than it uses directly, by 2030. Amazon's (AMZN) cloud business has long been exploring water sustainability and innovation, but this marks a new level of public commitment, said AWS CEO Adam Selipsky in an exclusive interview prior to the announcement.
“This started as an internal goal a couple of years ago,” Selipsky told Yahoo Finance. “We’re really just externalizing that goal now."
There's increasing pressure on global water resources: By 2030, worldwide demand for water will outpace supply by 40%, according to the United Nations. For Selipsky – whose past work has emphasized sustainability both within Amazon and beyond – it's also key that, in addition to announcing the business's commitment to water positivity, the company is releasing its 2021 global water use efficiency metric (WUE), which comes out to 0.25 liters of water per kilowatt-hour.
“That makes us the leader in water efficiency among cloud providers,” said Selipsky. “Some don’t release statistics at all, others do, and we perform best on that accepted metric. So, we’re really well on our way to becoming water positive and innovating to lower water use across our facilities.”
Other tech giants, including Microsoft (MSFT), Google parent Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL), and Meta (META) have made water positive pledges in recent years. For AWS, though, this is especially salient because it's coming from the cloud business. The data centers that a cloud business requires are notably water-intensive, as they often require large amounts of water for cooling. In recent years, some drought-prone areas have even begun to push back against Big Tech's water usage in their communities.
The stakes for AWS are high – AWS growth has long been exponential and considered key to Amazon's future; some of that growth slowed slightly last quarter. However, sustainability isn't at odds with growth, Selipsky told Yahoo Finance.
“We’re trying to embed sustainability in everything we do as a company, and I think that organizations need to do exactly that,” he said. “That said, I think there are many places where sustainability and good economics are partners, not enemies ... To look at another part of the business, since 2015, Amazon’s reduced the amount of packaging per delivery by 38%... and that's led to a 30% reduction in packaging weight."
Pursuing sustainability can actually provide wins across the board, Selipsky said.
"It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the convenience of our customers, and it’s good for Amazon economics,” he added.
As it pursues its water positivity goals, AWS is focusing on four different areas that it identifies as water efficiency, "sustainable sources," "community water reuse," and water replenishment projects. Some of these projects have been in progress for years. There's also a heavy emphasis on partnerships, as Amazon has linked up with The Nature Conservancy, WateReuse Association, Freshwater Trust, WaterAid, and Water.org, which was co-founded by actor Matt Damon.
AWS plans to update its WUE metric and provide progress updates in 2023, and said it will report on its progress to water positivity annually.
Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks.