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Intel slashes emissions, but misses water and waste targets

<p>Intel soundly beat its greenhouse-gas emissions goals, but missed several other targets: It consumes more water and creates more chemical waste than previously, instead of less. Are its new goals more realistic?</p>

Intel has set some ambitious new sustainability goals: By 2020, it wants to reduce direct greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per chip, cut water use to below 2010 levels on a per-chip basis, decrease the amount of chemical waste it generates by 10 percent from 2010 levels, eliminate all chemical waste going to landfills and recycle 90 percent of its solid waste.

But it certainly has its work cut out. In the company's 2011 corporate responsibility report, released today, Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) said it didn't meet all of its previous goals. It has significantly cut its greenhouse-gas emissions and it's making more energy-efficient products – but it also has been using more water and producing more chemical waste.

Cutting its carbon footprint

Intel reduced its carbon footprint by more than 60 percent from 2007 -- tripling its goal of cutting emissions 20 percent by 2012 – via measures such as installing solar panels and buying other green energy. Even more impressively, it did this while growing revenue 41 percent during that period. The reductions bring the company's emissions down to 1.3 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent per year.

“I think in the area of addressing climate change and the environment, we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done,” said Suzanne Fallender, director of corporate responsibility at Intel, in an interview.

The company also recycles more than 80 percent of the chemical solid waste that it generates from operations and construction. It designs all of its new buildings to meet LEED Silver requirements and it's working to retrofit existing buildings to the standards as well.

Boosting products' energy efficiency (but missing the target)

Still, it fell short on some of its other goals. Intel missed its target of reducing the amount of energy its products use by 5 percent annually since 2007; instead, it lowered energy consumption 8 percent in that time.

The company sees its products' energy efficiency as the area where it can make the most difference, Fallender said. “That’s where you have strategic importance,” she said, adding that it also saves customers money.

Intel estimates that its technology will enable the 1 billion PCs and servers expected to be installed between 2007 and 2014 to consume half the energy -- while providing 17 times the capacity -- of the first billion PCs and servers that were installed between 1980 and 2007.

Growing water consumption and waste

However, the company says its continuous technology advancements also led to increasing -- instead of decreasing -- its water use and chemical-waste production. Many of the major trends in semiconductor manufacturing that improve energy efficiency require more chemicals and water rinses, Intel says.

Photo of liquid splash crown by jcjgphotography via Shutterstock.

Instead of reducing its per-chip water consumption to below 2007 levels, as it had hoped, Intel is using 12 percent more water per chip. The company, which drew 8.3 billion gallons of water in 2011, notes that it recovered 80 percent of that water for possible other uses like irrigation. The rest was lost to evaporation.

Intel said it would be difficult to make large cuts in its water use because it already has taken many of the possible measures to conserve water. Its new goal of shrinking water use to below 2010 levels represents a less ambitious target than its previous aim of beating 2007 levels.  

Meanwhile, Intel increased the amount of chemical waste it generates per chip by a whopping 54 percent. Its goal had been to reduce per-chip chemical waste by 10 percent from 2007 levels and to recycle 80 percent of that waste. It did meet the recycling target: The company generated 35.3 thousands tons of chemical waste in 2011 and recycled 81 percent.

Working the supply chain

Because Intel makes most of its products, most of its environmental impact comes from its own operations, rather than from its supply chain. Nonetheless, the company has been working to start evaluating suppliers' environmental performance.

Last year, it asked suppliers for baseline data and reduction goals on energy, water and waste. This resulted in a wide range of efforts, including initiatives to reduce waste and emissions through better packaging designs. Overall, packaging weights fell 56 percent in 2011 from 2010, more than double the one-year goal, Intel says.

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