Intel rewards employees for thinking sustainable. Do you?

Environmental metrics have been part of the technology giant's compensation since 2008, but Intel is seeking new ways to encourage every employee to be creative about the company's impact on the planet.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

As I wrote earlier this week, one of the most fundamental reasons that the corporate sustainability strategy of pioneer Interface has been and continues to be relevant is BOTH the passion of it late leader Ray Anderson and the company's wise move to put employees up and down the management chain at the center of defining the plan and making it work.

It is a strategy that more companies would do well to emulate: by putting in place incentive and reward structures that encourage creativity and action related to sustainability projects. I'm not just talking about feel-good projects, I'm talking about projects that are relevant to the company's products or operations.

This theme was one that I explored in depth a couple of weeks ago during a telephone interview with Suzanne Fallender, Intel’s Director of CSR Strategy & Communications. One very real example of how employee engagement has helped the entire company is discussed in the company's latest corporate sustainability and social responsibility report. Actually, there is more than one example, but this one details actions that the company's event marketing team have begun to apply across big corporate events, including the annual Intel Development Forum. The original program started small, but had a much larger impact when the event team published a handbooks describing their best practices.

Fallender said Intel's employee bonus and compensation structure includes metrics that are tied to the company's overall environmental performance, which is certainly a motivating factor. The company has actually be doing this since 2008; in 2010, the specific focus was on carbon emissions reductions in its operations and energy-efficiency goals for new products.

Another program that you might want to bone up on is something called the Sustainability in Action grant program. The initiative offers employees an opportunity to find funding for a project that might be a bit outside the norm. In 2010, there was $100,000 granted over a series of projects, including a water-conservation garden demonstration project in Folsom, Calif., and solar labs in Costa Rica.

From my point of view, two of the projects that were funded last year are particularly relevant. One of them, focused on the concept of "Zero Emission Fabs," focuses on the idea that the company could use boiler emissions from its fabrication facilities to cultivate algae that might be used for biofuel. Another project is something you could describe as citizen science, which happens to use Intel technology as the documentary medium for a project called "Portrait of a Coral Reef." The high-resolution images collected as part of this project will be synthesized by multi-core Intel system so that they can be analyzed by researchers at the University of California at San Diego.

And, because sometimes motivation can come in the form of a pat on the back and a simple "thank you," Intel has created something called the Intel Environmental Excellence Awards. The awards recognize projects that help reduce the overall company's environmental impact, including LEED certification efforts, recycling initiatives, waste reduction and so on. An example out of Ireland: by changing the number of times filters were changed in certain scanner tools, the facility saved 350,000 gallons of water and more than $500,000 related to waste reduction. Intel figures that the projects from 2010 saved $136 million.

If you've been looking for the "return on investment" argument you need to convince your own company to think the same way, I think those numbers are pretty compelling. Moreover, I realize that there may be some people on this planet who act from pure altruism. But when it comes to a business setting, it is very clear that there is direct correlation between what people do and what they are paid to do.

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