AT&T Building Water Efficiency: People’s Insights Volume 2, Issue 31

AT&T and EDF’s water saving initiative

In an effort to maintain their ‘aquaprint,’ AT &T partnered with the Environmental Defence Fund and used data analysis to reduce their water consumption at cooling towers. The companies then packaged their learning into a free Building Water Efficiency toolkit, which can be applied at buildings across the U.S. to reduce water consumption by 28 billion gallons annually.

The toolkit has already helped AT&T identify ways to reduce water consumption by 14% – 40% – resulting in savings of 150 million gallons annually by 2015.

This project is designed to help AT&T find a cost-effective way to reduce their water footprint and operational costs, but also contributes to their position as a socially responsible company. In fact, AT&T was recently ranked #1 on Corporate Responsibility Magazine‘s 13th Annual 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, and was recognized in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America (DJSI) for a fourth consecutive year. (DJSI is the oldest global sustainability benchmark and inclusion in the Index is considered “a seal of approval for a company’s CSR program.”)

Using data to identify savings

In 2010, AT&T worked with students from Vanderbilt University to measure their water footprint. The company then initiated a data management plan and discovered that 125 facilities accounted for almost half of their annual 3.4 billion gallons of water consumption. In 2011, AT&T launched a water scorecard to track water usage at these facilities and identified cooling towers as one of the top consumers of water.

Buildings 5

In 2012, AT&T partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to optimize water consumption and to measure the resulting savings in cost across pilot facilities. The Building Water Efficiency toolkit was developed as the result of data and lessons from these pilot projects, and gives organizations simple cost-effective resources to build their own water efficiency programs.

Sharing the toolkit

The Building Water Efficiency toolkit comprises of a Water Scorecard and Water Efficiency Calculator to evaluate and identify consumption and savings opportunities, a Cooling System guide and video series to educate stakeholders, and sample Water Audit forms to help stakeholders build a water management program.

AT&T and EDF have provided the toolkit for free at the EDF website and have also planned a series of free webinars to introduce and promote the toolkit.


AT&T and EDF’s water efficiency efforts don’t stop here. AT&T also hosts EDF Climate Corps fellows every summer, for four years now, and 2013’s fellows will focus on water and energy savings from free air cooling, and a regional outreach program to share the tools and findings with organizations in water stressed areas.

The ever-rising importance of water

McKinsey’s report Charting our Water Future (2009) notes that in the last 50 years, the world’s population has doubled and global GDP has grown tenfold , agricultural and industrial output has boomed, and cities have burgeoned. This growth, and these competing uses, have put global water resources under ever-increasing strain.

People, media, public and private leaders are beginning to realize that water shortage is a near reality.

AT&T’s Director of Sustainability Operations John Schulz talks about water concerns and priorities in this video:

Water and Energy Efficiency Management at AT&T

Collaborating to solve today’s social challenges

Thinkers and doers point out that collaboration is key to tackling social challenges.



AT&T’s Vice President of Sustainability and Philanthropy Beth Shiroishi notes the need to combine resources and expertise:

“As AT&T seeks to address some of society’s greatest challenges – access to education, use of resources, and the dangers of texting while driving – one of our most important realizations has been that we cannot go it alone. This past year, we undertook initiatives with groups like Communities in Schools, Environmental Defense Fund and the National Organizations for Youth Safety to tackle these tough issues.”

In a report report titled “Water Scarcity & Climate Change: Growing Risks for Businesses & Investors,” the Pacific Institute notes the need to pool together knowledge, information and data:

“By pooling resources and bringing together a wide range of expertise and knowledge through partnerships for a common goal, companies can respond to water-related concerns more efficiently and effectively than through individual actions.

“Collaborative actions are particularly crucial in assessing and addressing climate change impacts, since there are large gaps in knowledge and information related to climate change and water, especially data and prediction modeling at the watershed level.”

MSLGROUP India’s Ashraf Engineer notes that corporates and private companies will have an increasing role to play in this space:

“The expertise, resources and planning that professionals bring to the table are rarely replicated by the government. It won’t be long before the government starts handing over water management to private firms, just as we are seeing in the power sector.

“However, water is a touchy subject and must be handled with care. It’s very easy for private management of water to be besieged by controversy. It must be taken on with the community at the centre of the effort.”

As an example, see our post on IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge which encourages collaboration between IBM experts and public leaders and offices.

Engaging employees around Sustainability

Several brands have launched programs to involve employees in their sustainability initiatives. Some crowdsource ideas on how to optimize facilities and processes. like Honda did at its annual Innovative Ideas Convention. Others have organized elaborate 2-3 day fun treasure hunts in which employees physically search for efficiency opportunities and invent solutions, like GE did with its Eco Treasure Hunts. Yet others have leveraged their employees collective social presence to create awareness about issues and potential solutions, like Levi’s did with its Waterless program.

Sustainability bloggers Toby Russell and Thomas Hendrick note the need for sustainability engagement programs to evolve with the times:

“In a digital world, the entire model of sustainability engagement has to shift. It is no longer enough to just have brown-bag lunches or a river cleanup at your headquarters and call it your engagement program. Creating dynamic content that is relevant, exciting and accessible is crucial, and using a social network to distribute your content is especially effective.”

GE Healthcare “Treasure Hunt”


People, data and devices for Sustainability

Brands and organizations have also energized people in sustainability initiatives. For instance,


National Geographic Society, Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Participant Media created “Change the Course” and asked people to pledge their commitment to conserve water by changing personal behaviors around diet, energy use and product consumption. Charity:water created a crowdfunding platform and encourages people to organize their own fundraisers for water projects in developing countries. Starbucks created the Ethos Water Fund to let people support water initiatives with their purchases:
“Ethos® Water was created to help raise awareness about this terrible crisis and provide children with access to clean water. Every time you buy a bottle of Ethos® Water, you contribute 5 cents to the Ethos® Water Fund, part of the Starbucks Foundation.”
In addition, brands, entrepreneurs and hackers are using data and connected devices to help people measure and manage their carbon footprint and change their behavior (Opower) and to create cleaner infrastructure and processes.

Interesting fact – By next year 10% of light bulbs will be connected to the internet! #SMWLdn

— Jennifer Johnson (@JenGraceJo) September 23, 2013

Indeed, as GreenBiz’s Joel Makower noted:
“Over the past couple years, we’ve made the intersection of sustainability and data a staple of our coverage of the sustainable business scene. Data, we’ve written, is being harvested and harnessed to improve cities’ infrastructure, eliminate landfills,improve street lighting, accelerate energy-efficient buildings, reduce water leaks and boost innovation. There’s an Internet of Things, an Internet of Buildings, an Internet of Cars (and another one of trucks).”


MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

[Can’t see this Slideshare presentation? Click here to view it directly on]

As an example, 100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on reputation, employee engagement and citizenship on the MSLGROUP Insights Network.

Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.We have further synthesized the insights from 2012 to provide foresights for business leaders and changemakers — in the ten-part People’s Insights Annual Report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement, also available as a Kindle eBook.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at