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Inside Intel's 3 pillars of sustainability

<p>Zeroing in on these key areas keeps the company moving towards its goals.</p>

Intel's approach to sustainability is simple, yet effective. With a focus on three areas -- data collection and transparency, integration across business units and engagement with internal and external stakeholders -- the chip maker has devised a strategy that seems to work.

This year -- in addition to IBM, Campbell’s Soup, SC Johnson, Ford Motors, GAP and Ingersoll Rand -- Intel and its partners won the Climate Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It's also investing in its efforts. According to Intel's corporate social responsibility report released this year, the company has invested $100 million in water conservation projects and $58 million in energy conservation projects since 1998.

Suzanne Fallender, Intel's director of CSR strategy and communications, gave GreenBiz an inside look into how the company implements its three-pronged approach to sustainability.

Data collection and transparency

"Managing the data and having a culture that focuses on that data has helped us build trust, improve our performance and do more towards transparency every year," Fallender said.

For instance, Intel's environmental and health and safety division looks at how much water and energy are used and reports it annually. This is reviewed internally and also externally when its data is compared and ranked alongside other companies.

Intel compares how it has fared with others -- where it has done well and where it needs to improve by benchmarking its performance.

One area where it has done really well is in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which had been cut to 2007 levels by the end of last year.

It has also tried to be creative in improving transparency by installing live webcams at facilities in China, Costa Rica and New Mexico that provide a bird's eye view of the premises, as well as an inside look at how its plants manage energy and water.

Image of Corinthian pillars provided by Sirozha via Shutterstock

Sustainability goals set at the corporate level are drilled down by the marketing, information technology and supply chain groups. Each focuses on how it can improve its own operations and integrate efforts across departments -- rather than responding to directives from the CSR department.

The IT group has come up with some creative ways to reduce energy, such as using mineral oil to cool its servers at data centers, reducing the amount of energy that would otherwise be used to keep them cool. And a move to reduce corporate travel by switching to teleconferencing resulted in $70 million in savings in 2011 alone.

By teaming up with marketing, the supply chain group focused its efforts on another target: how to reduce the environmental impact at events such as the Intel developer's conference in San Francisco earlier this month.

"They put out a list of best practices that can be used for other events and be modeled for smaller events," Fallender said.

This replication works in other ways too. When Intel rolled out a water conservation program at its Chandler, Ariz. facility to partner with the city and take back the city's grey water for reuse, the program was something that could be emulated in other locations.

Intel is also working with Arizona State University on a water matching program to determine which other cities have significant amounts of grey water and how this water can be reclaimed by local companies.

Engaging external and internal stakeholders

The company has saved $70 million through a mix of energy and water conservation projects in 2011. Employees are also given an incentive to contribute to sustainability.

"We link employee pay with how much Intel's foot print improves," said Fallender.

Investors and research firms are also on the list for external check-ins for feedback on Intel's CSR report, and how it can be improved. Earlier this month, the company held such meetings in New York, Boston and Washington D.C.

"We take a portfolio approach to climate; we've done a lot to reduce our own operational greenhouse gases over the years, but we also go beyond our own operations to engage our supply chain," Fallender said.

"The biggest opportunity lies in how you look at product impact -- if you think of the power of technology, the more energy efficient we can make our microprocessors, the more efficient laptops and servers will become, so we've made this a priority."

Intel is also working with several universities and research organizations to see how this thinking can be extended to embrace energy savings at offices and homes, through its energy and sustainability lab in Ireland set up last year.

How to get started at your company

Fallender's CSR team consists of seven people, but the IT and other departments also have their own green teams that head up sustainability initiatives.

Even small companies can do what Intel is doing, according to Fallender, who said they may find it easier to bring people on board and get things going sooner.

"Creating awareness is the first step. If you can put together a newsletter or lunchtime talks, that's the first step -- to create awareness," she said.

The next step is creating opportunity for people to take action through volunteering for projects or working on a project full time. Fallender said this approach gave employees the opportunity to act and show progress over time.

What to do after those two actions have been accomplished? Enable sharing, Fallender said, with an internal forum to exchange ideas and discuss issues.

"If we had tried to push it from our CSR department we wouldn't have been able to push it this far," she reflected.

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