Green Spot: Intel: Continuous Environmental Innovation

June 30, 2008
Leading semiconductor manufacturer displays trademark relentless and innovative spirit towards all of its green business initiatives -- and the list keeps growing.

It's no wonder that a firm that is in the process of continuous innovation in the pursuit of efficiency should also be in a process of continuous improvement aimed at the same goal. Todd Brady is the Corporate Environmental Manager for Intel Corporation, leading a wide range of environmental programs, from regulatory compliance and design for environment at semiconductor and assembly test manufacturing sites to product-related environmental initiatives. Before he took the corporatewide role, he was Intel's Product Ecology Manager, establishing the company's programs to develop environmentally friendly products and leading product-related initiatives such as lead-free development, energy efficiency, product stewardship and product recycling. He's served as co-chair of the American Electronics Association (AEA) China RoHS Steering Committee and chair of the High Density Packaging User Group (HDPUG) Design for Environment Committee, among other external roles.

I first heard Todd speak at the Corporate Climate Response conference a few years ago, and came away quite impressed at some of the leading practices he shared, as well as the speed at which his company is constantly rolling them out -- not surprising coming from the firm that brought you Moore's Law. I thought we'd covered Intel's efforts fairly thoroughly in our initial conversation, but by the time we got together and finalized this Q&A, the chipmaker had added a couple more to the list. Read and learn below.

IW: How do you see sustainability fitting into core business strategy?

Brady: Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder and a long-time environmentalist, instilled a legacy of sustainability and consciousness at Intel that continues today. We strongly encourage our employees to apply the same level of knowledge and creativity to solving the environmental challenges of design and production as they do to creating and developing the next innovation in technology.

We strive to minimize our environmental footprint and achieve the highest standards of environmental consciousness in everything we do -- from how we design and manufacture our products, to how we build and operate our facilities, manage resources, and handle waste materials. Intel has been reporting its efforts in this regard since 1994 and in 2005, we became one of the first companies in the world to publicly report our environmental, health and safety (EHS) performance indicators on a quarterly basis. By providing stakeholders with timely information about emissions, resource usage, employee injuries and waste generation, we have raised the bar in public reporting.

As sustainability becomes more top of mind with governments and consumers, companies that take an active role in environmental issues will have a competitive advantage over companies that don't. This insight will help companies stay on top of emerging policies and community programs that are forward-thinking, provide better business advantages and enhance brand reputation. For any company, well planned and properly executed initiatives can have a positive impact in an economic, environmental and social sense -- the triple bottom line.

IW: How are you addressing energy efficiency and Climate Change?

Brady: At Intel, we consider global warming to be a serious issue and we are proactively working to address global climate change. We focus these efforts in three main areas: greenhouse gas emissions, energy usage in operations and energy efficiency of products.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Intel has focused for more than a decade on reducing the energy consumption of products, setting up dedicated energy conservation funding for our factories and reducing the emissions of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) -- critical chemicals in semiconductor manufacturing that have high global warming potential. In 1996, Intel led an industry coalition to reach an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to voluntarily reduce emissions of PFCs, setting a goal to reduce emissions 10 percent below 1995 levels by 2010.

As a result of its efforts, Intel has reduced its normalized global warming emissions 20 percent below 2004 levels and plans to reduce its total carbon footprint by 20 percent over the next five years. Intel plans to achieve this by intensifying efforts in energy conservation and through purchasing more than 1.3 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy certificates annually, thereby making Intel the largest corporate purchaser of green power in the United States. (Per the EPA Green Power Partnership:

We have a dedicated capital funding program that allocates funds solely for the purpose of conservation and efficiency projects around operations, including efficient lighting, "smart" system controls, boiler efficiency, chilled water improvements, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning improvements. As a result of this program, Intel has approved more than 200 projects and saved over 400 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity since 2001.

It is our goal to reduce energy consumption by an average of 4 percent per production unit per year from 2002 through 2010. We had exceeded that goal by the end of 2006, as energy use had declined 5.7 percent per year since 2002, and in 2006 alone, Intel's energy use was reduced by more than 160 million kWh, water usage was reduced by nearly 200 million gallons and natural gas consumption was cut by 6 million therms.

Energy Savings of Products

In November 2007, Intel introduced 45 nanometer processors, which raise the bar for energy-efficient performance across dual-core and quad-core desktop, mobile and server products. These processors are up to 40 percent more energy efficient than previous generation products and are the first lead-free microprocessors; Intel made these processors halogen-free in 2008.

In addition to greening its own products, Intel has worked with industry standards organizations to develop computing platforms that deliver more performance with lower power requirements. For example, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Intel developed guidelines for more efficient system power supplies, which can absorb as much as 50% of the energy used in a PC. Intel has also worked with Pacific Gas and Electric, a California-based utility, to assist with a first-of-its-kind initiative to provide financial incentives to encourage the use of virtualization in data-center consolidations.

Intel is also a member of The Green Grid and is involved with Climate Savers Computing Initiative. These entities are consortiums of companies dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in data centers and computing networks. Intel brings a unique perspective and skills to these groups as an industry enabler and leader in energy-efficient microprocessor, chipset, and platform products.

IW: How are you addressing waste reduction?

Brady: Intel takes a holistic approach to waste reduction through our Design for the Environment principle (DfE). When Intel builds a new wafer fabrication facility (fab), we apply DfE from the beginning planning stages. The cooling system of our fab in Oregon is a prime example of Intel efforts to reduce water, energy and air pollution. In traditional cooling systems water is re-circulated through the cooling system and heat that is removed from the building is wasted to evaporate water in the cooling towers. In this particular fab, the heat is recovered for heating rather than being used to evaporate water. Through this innovation, water requirements are reduced by about 45 million gallons per year and air pollution and CO2 emissions from the boilers are reduced by about 80 percent because the boilers do not run as frequently.

Intel facilities also work to share their experiences with the community. A prime example of eagerness to share waste reduction efforts is evidenced by the Malaysia Solid Waste Recycling Team, whose members spent more than 750 hours sharing environmental facts with students and then worked with the students and the community to collect more that 110 tons of waste for recycling.

Today, everywhere that Intel operates, over 70% of waste is recycled. We have a dedicated team responsible for ensuring that we recycle or reuse whenever possible. For example, Intel's Chandler facility sends 15 tons of coffee grounds per year to the desert botanical gardens to be used as fertilizer. Similarly, Intel donates used copper to Arizona State University for art projects.

IW: How are you addressing supply chain management?

Brady: At Intel, we understand that our supply chain is a system that must work together to better the future and our reputations and performance will only be as strong as the weakest link. Each year, Intel sponsors a Supplier's Day where we communicate our expectations around sustainability and products to our supply chain community and work with suppliers on emerging trends in quality, EHS performance, cost, and most recently, CSR and sustainability. We recognize suppliers who maintain an outstanding commitment to quality and performance with the Supplier Continuous Quality Improvement Award. At this year's Supplier's Day, we introduced new Environmental and Green Procurement requirements for our Supplier Awards going forward.

IW: What is the best advice you can give to companies considering "getting with the program"?

Brady: One of the most important pieces of advice is to understand the strengths of your own organization -- it is easier and more effective to leverage existing systems than to set up new parallel processes. For example, Intel develops a new sophisticated manufacturing process every two years in the continuous pursuit of Moore's Law. We have developed a system of working closely with the new process developers to identify and design around potential environmental issues during development. This approach allows the technologists to apply the same skills and knowledge to pushing the bounds of physics as to solving environmental problems.

Intel has found that conservation is key. Since 2001, Intel has put $20 million toward conservation efforts and saved $42 million. Look for the low hanging fruit and focus on continuous improvement rather than try to find the perfect one-off solution. There are a number of relatively easy things, such as increasing the amount of waste that is recycled, that will help a company recognize these benefits to the bottom line. Once started, it is easier to increase rates and identify additional opportunities.

It is also important to have a way to measure performance and improvements to substantiate progress and encourage participation from executives, operations and business units. Keeping records of good data also allows groups to be rewarded for performance and helps identify areas where performance can be improved.

Finally, senior management support is essential to a well-running sustainability program in order to help drive sustainability into business processes across the entire organization. Intel's senior executives are carrying on the environmental ethic that began with Gordon Moore, and we continue to foster a culture of identifying potential challenges and working to find solutions that minimize our environmental footprint.

For more features like this, see Green Spot: Best Practices in Sustainable Manufacturing. To participate in IW's Green Spot leadership in manufacturing program, email IW Making Green Editor Brad Kenney to start the application process.

About the Author

Brad Kenney | Chief Marketing Officer

Brad Kenney is the former Technology Editor of IndustryWeek and now serves as director of the mobile/social platforms practice at R/GA, a global marketing/advertising firm in New York City.

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