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The Water Footprint of Data Centers

Center for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London SW7 1NA, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Arjen Y. Hoekstra
Sustainability 2015, 7(8), 11260-11284;
Received: 16 June 2015 / Revised: 5 August 2015 / Accepted: 12 August 2015 / Published: 18 August 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water Footprints and Sustainable Water Allocation)
PDF [1537 KB, uploaded 18 August 2015]


The internet and associated Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are diffusing at an astounding pace. As data centers (DCs) proliferate to accommodate this rising demand, their environmental impacts grow too. While the energy efficiency of DCs has been researched extensively, their water footprint (WF) has so far received little to no attention. This article conducts a preliminary WF accounting for cooling and energy consumption in DCs. The WF of DCs is estimated to be between 1047 and 151,061 m3/TJ. Outbound DC data traffic generates a WF of 1–205 liters per gigabyte (roughly equal to the WF of 1 kg of tomatos at the higher end). It is found that, typically, energy consumption constitues by far the greatest share of DC WF, but the level of uncertainty associated with the WF of different energy sources used by DCs makes a comprehensive assessment of DCs’ water use efficiency very challenging. Much better understanding of DC WF is urgently needed if a meaningful evaluation of this rapidly spreading service technology is to be gleaned and response measures are to be put into effect. View Full-Text
Keywords: water footprint; data center; water; water-energy nexus; water use water footprint; data center; water; water-energy nexus; water use

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Ristic, B.; Madani, K.; Makuch, Z. The Water Footprint of Data Centers. Sustainability 2015, 7, 11260-11284.

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