Intel's Commits To Net-Zero By 2040 In Its Global Operations, But Wants The Impact To Be Felt Across
This week, Intel announced plans to further reduce its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and develop more sustainable technology solutions. The company pledged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its global operations by 2040, to increase the energy efficiency and lower the carbon footprint of Intel products and platforms with specific goals, and to work with customers and industry partners to create solutions that lower the greenhouse gas footprint of the entire technology ecosystem.
Intel's net-zero pledge comes after other tech giants have committed to reducing carbon emissions. Microsoft pledged to be carbon negative by reversing carbon emissions for its corporate lifetime by 2050. Apple committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2030. Google claimed in 2020 to have already eliminated its carbon legacy.
Intel's challenge is that most of its emissions come from materials used to manufacture its chipsets, the core of its business. The manufacturing industry at large has a heavy responsibility for emissions of greenhouse gases. In the U.S., manufacturing accounts for almost a quarter (23%) of direct carbon emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Overproduction, waste and an overreliance on fossil fuels have historically been significant contributors to emissions in the industry. Over the past few years, manufacturers have leaned on the circular economy to reverse their emissions impact. The circular economy is a way to optimize the value chain, find efficiencies in production processes and adopt a "reuse, reduce, recycle" approach. Of course, for the circular economy to be effective, it must be part of product design and development from the get-go.
Companywide, Intel says it emitted the equivalent of nearly 3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020. About a third of that was from electricity usage; the rest was associated with the company's manufacturing process, refrigeration and air travel. Intel's U.S. operations have been running on renewable energy for about a decade, a standard it plans to replicate across its operations in other countries by 2030. Additionally, Intel said it would work to hold its suppliers to higher environmental standards and design more efficient computers.
CEO Pat Gelsinger and Keyvan Esfarjani, vice president and chief of global operations, do not shy away from the challenge and have a plan in place that is based on realistic science and fact-based objectives. They also made it clear they understand how fighting climate change is a business problem they need to solve, not just a social corporate responsibility issue. To do that, Intel developed a multi-prong plan to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across its operations emissions by 2040. These are considered Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from company-owned and controlled resources. They are emissions released into the atmosphere as a direct result of a company's activities. Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy from a utility provider. They are GHG emissions released in the atmosphere from the consumption of purchased electricity, steam, heat and cooling.
To keep itself accountable, Intel has set the following interim milestones for 2030:
Achieve 100% renewable electricity use across its global operations.
Invest approximately $300 million in energy conservation at its facilities to achieve 4 billion cumulative kilowatt-hours of energy savings.
Build new factories and facilities to meet U.S. Green Building Council® LEED® program standards.
Launch a cross-industry R&D initiative to identify greener chemicals with lower global warming potential and develop new abatement equipment.
Intel also said that in collaboration with other chipset makers, it hopes to swap out chemicals it currently uses to make semiconductors with alternatives with a lower carbon footprint while still providing technological advances. The company said it would also develop new equipment to minimize those chemicals' impact. Innovation is also the focus in other areas such as cooling. For example, Intel is embracing new principles such as heat recapture and reuse via immersion cooling in a partnership with a company such as Submer to launch liquid immersion cooling pilot deployments for data centers across cloud and communications service providers.
There is a third area of impact related to scope 3 emissions, an area that companies are not required to quantify. In most cases, scope 3 emissions are by far the most significant proportion of an organization's carbon footprint. It is also the area over which a company has the least control and has the most difficulty quantifying. Scope 3 emissions include all indirect emissions not included in scope 2 that occur in the value chain of the company's operations. It includes upstream activities such as travel, waste and transportation as well as downstream activities such as investments.
In Intel's case, scope 3 emissions include manufacturing and logistics steps taken mainly by third parties that contribute to the final product delivered by Intel. In this area, Intel says to be actively engaged with its suppliers to identify areas of improvement, including:
· increasing supplier focus on energy conservation and renewable energy sourcing,
· increasing chemical and resource efficiencies,
· leading cross-industry consortia to support the transition to a net-zero greenhouse gas semiconductor manufacturing value chain.
To accelerate progress, Intel is committed to partnering with suppliers to drive supply chain greenhouse gas emissions to at least 30% lower by 2030 than they would be in the absence of investment and action.
Suppliers aside, Intel can support its partners and customers in their own sustainability goals by providing more sustainable products. In that vein, Intel will increase the energy efficiency of its products and continue to drive performance improvements to the market demands. For example, Intel is setting a new goal to achieve a five times increase in performance per watt for its next-generation CPU-GPU, code-named Falcon Shores. In addition, the company remains committed to its 2030 goal to increase product energy efficiency by 10 times for client and server microprocessors.
All tech companies must continue to be held accountable because of how much they contribute to the issue but, more importantly, because of the positive impact they can have if they use their technological innovation to mitigate their effects and eventually become an agent of positive change. Intel's track record in sustainability speaks to a long-term commitment to doing better: cumulative greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade are nearly 75% lower than they would have been in the absence of investments and action.