The preservation of water resources and protection of watersheds are important areas of focus for IBM.

IBM established its first water conservation goal in the year 2000, focusing on the significant use of water in our microelectronics manufacturing operations. From 2000 to 2015, IBM’s water conservation efforts avoided the accumulated use of 21.3 million cubic meters of water in those operations. With the divestiture of IBM’s semiconductor manufacturing operations in July 2015, we substantially reduced our direct water use. IBM’s current water use is primarily associated with cooling at our large facilities and data centers, and for irrigation and domestic purposes.

Following IBM’s divestiture of its semiconductor manufacturing operations during 2015, we reassessed the environmental impacts of our water use. We identified 45 data centers and other large IBM locations located in water-stressed regions. We did this by using the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Global Water Tool, which highlighted places around the globe with highly stressed, or extremely highly stressed, water resources. Following this assessment, IBM established a new goal in 2016 to achieve ongoing year-to-year reductions in water withdrawals at these locations, even though many of these locations had already undertaken projects to reduce water consumption.

In 2016, IBM reduced water withdrawals at these locations in water-stressed regions by 6.6 percent against a 2015 baseline year. Water sources for these locations consisted of municipal water supplies (72 percent), surface water (24 percent), and groundwater (4 percent). These sources accounted for 97 percent of total water use at these locations, while 3 percent came from on-site process water reuse, process water recycling, or grey water. The main uses of water at these locations are for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems (31 percent), washrooms (23 percent), cleaning (22 percent), irrigation of gardens and lawns (17 percent), and food preparation (7 percent).

Water use at IBM locations in water-stressed regions

Water use at IBM locations in water-stressed regions 31% Heating, ventilation and air conditioning 23% Washrooms 22% Cleaning 17% Irrigation of gardens and lawns 7% Food preparation

Water conservation projects continue to be implemented across IBM. In 2016, projects at locations in water-stressed regions included:

  • The IBM Almaden Research Laboratory, California, achieved a 13 percent reduction in water withdrawals through reuse of treated industrial and sanitary wastewater in cooling towers.
  • IBM’s Boulder, Colorado, location reduced water use in HVAC systems by modifying chiller set points and operational changes, thereby reducing water withdrawals by approximately 10 percent.

In addition, IBM continued to implement water conservation projects at locations that are not in water-stressed regions. Examples included:

  • IBM’s Bromont, Canada, location implemented an underground fire pipe leak reduction project, reducing water withdrawals by more than 2,000 cubic meters annually. The site decommissioned a reverse osmosis water treatment unit no longer required by the business, reducing water withdrawals by nearly 4,000 cubic meters annually. The site also modified the size of part carriers (trays used to transport parts throughout different process stages) in the manufacturing line, allowing for more parts to be placed in each carrier, increasing the efficiency of water use in the cleaning process, and reducing water withdrawals by more than 8,100 cubic meters annually.
  • IBM’s Montpellier, France, location installed water meters to help identify hidden water leaks, and implemented a program to check for leaks in faucets and pipes continuously. In addition, the site now uses a water saving system with infrared sensors for toilets and washbasins. These efforts are reducing water withdrawals by 15 percent, or about 950 cubic meters annually.
  • The IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, has a deionized water purification process which accounts for approximately 50 percent of the site’s overall municipal water usage. For every cubic meter of purified water generated, half a cubic meter of wastewater is also produced. In 2016, the location implemented a process to reclaim this wastewater and reuse it in the cooling tower system. In addition, rainwater was harvested from building roofs and redirected to the cooling towers. These combined efforts resulted in a reduction in water withdrawals of 35,000 cubic meters annually.

Download the 2016 report