The latest high-tech giant to report on its corporate sustainability initiatives is Intel, and its 2010 Corporate Responsibility Report offers more evidence that the road toward environmental best practices is full of many pot holes. On the face of it, there are many great things for the company to report -- notably its use of solar energy and purchases of renewable energy credits. But if you glance at its performance summary, you'll notice that it is much more challenging for technology companies -- especially manufacturers -- to manage water consumption, energy usage and chemical waste generated when revenue begins to climb.
Here are some of those stats, along with the comparisons with 2009:
- Energy consumption: This is the most positive story that Intel has to tell. During 2010, it uses about 5.2 million kilowatt-hours, slightly higher than the 5.1 million kilowatt-hours that is used in 2009. Intel actually has nine solar electric installations in the United States and Israel that collectively generate 3.8 million kilowatt-hours annually. Intel also is still the single largest purchaser of renewable energy credits in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Greenhouse gas emissions: Intel reported a higher level of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010, compared with the previous year -- 2.12 million metric tons versus 2.05 million metric tons. That is a far cry from the 4.02 million metric tons it reported in 2006. Its overall goal is to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent between 2007 and 2012. By my calculation, it needs to continue to squeeze out some more emissions in order to meet that goal.
- Chemical waste: This is an area where Intel's 2010 performance is dramatically different than 2009. For one thing, it created a lot more chemical waste: 31,265 tons in 2010, up sharply from 24,665 tons in 2009. This is actually more than the 2006 baseline that Intel shows on its data sheet. The other thing to watch is the amount of waste that is recycled or reused. Intel's goal is to recycle 80 percent of the solid waste and chemical waste that it generates each year. During 2010, it recycled or reused 75 percent of the chemical waste. That's not bad, but back in 2007, Intel recycled 87 percent of its chemical waste.
- Solid waste: Similar trend here. During 2010, Intel generated more solid waste than it did in 2009. But, it has reduced the amount dramatically since 2008. In that year, Intel generated 83,822 tons of solid waste, compared with 51,345 tons generated in 2010. As of this report, Intel is reusing or recycling approximately 83 percent of its solid waste.
- Water usage: Over time, Intel has saves an estimated 40 billion gallons of water. Last year, it "withdrew" 8.15 million gallons of water, compared with roughly 7.9 million gallons in 2009. Its goal is to reduce water use per chip below 2007 levels by next year. Right now, it estimates it takes 16 gallons of water to produce a single chip. Last year, Intel recycled approximately 2 billion gallons of water, which is about 25 percent of its total consumption.
In a letter at the beginning of the report, Intel CEO Paul Otellini acknowledged his company's particular challenges in water usage and chemical waste generation. You can expect the company to heighten its attention to these issues -- and to the contributions of its supply chain partners toward same -- in the year to come. And, as you might expect, information technology will play a large role in all this. The company notes in its report:
"Today, nearly every segment of industry is either in the process of (or beginning to explore) transforming their energy management and IT practices in order to achieve new levels of energy and environmental efficiency. Intel continues to explore opportunities to design, develop and deliver new technologies to address sustainability challenges. Our focus areas include: transforming to a low-carbon economy (energy, transportation); copying with climate change (water, air, modeling, extreme event preparation and response); and promoting transparency (providing data on embedded carbon, materials, toxics, etc.) In each of these areas, systems are becoming infused with IT that measures (senses), models (analyzes), and manages (controls) these man-made and natural systems."
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