Majority of independent shareholders call on Alphabet to address growing water risks

About 64% of Alphabet’s independent shareholders voted in support of a water risk reduction proposal by As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy non-profit.

The resolution asks Alphabet, the parent company of Google, to address the water risk associated with climate change, especially at its water-thirsty data centres. The proposal seeks quantitative, location-specific water use information and the company’s plans to reduce water-related risk.

Alphabet has a number of data centres that are fundamental to its business model. Collectively, data centres are among the top 10 water-consuming industries in the US. A typical data centre uses 3-5 million gallons of water per day, according to Venkatesh Uddameri, professor and director of the Water Resources Centre at Texas Tech University.

Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, said: “Alphabet’s need for water resources is becoming increasingly contentious and fraught with risk due to drought, declining groundwater levels and competing water demands. With this proposal, shareholders seek quantifiable information from Alphabet about the water-related risks to the company for the water-constrained locations in which it operates.”

Google operates in regions predicted to have high or extremely high water stress by 2030, including Storey County, Nevada and Changhua County, Taiwan. As water stress becomes more prevalent, Alphabet has faced greater competition for water resources, legal disputes and higher costs.

According to As You Sow, Google’s significant water use has already generated controversy across the US, including conflict with communities concerned about water depletion. The company has been at the centre of disputes with local communities over how much water it proposes to use and its position that its water use is a proprietary “trade secret”. The agency added that Google has gone far as to attempt to prohibit local cities from disclosing the amount of its proposed water use through non-disclosure agreements and other legal mechanisms.

“By refusing to disclose water use metrics to the public, Alphabet is losing the trust of its investors and the communities in which it operates,” Fugere added.

Tech industry peers Microsoft and IBM report to CDP on water use and water risk, including disclosing the percentage of water withdrawn from areas with water stress.