Intel commits to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040

Greenwashing or serious commitment?

Intel has committed to being net zero for greenhouse gas emissions across its global operations by 2040, and has set itself interim milestones for 2030 including 100 percent renewable electricity use and to identify greener chemicals with lower global warming potential.

The chip giant announced the move as part of plans to increase the energy efficiency, and lower the carbon footprint, of Intel products and platforms, and said it will work with customers and industry partners to create systems that lower the greenhouse gas footprint of the entire technology ecosystem.

Chief executive Pat Gelsinger claimed that Intel is taking “meaningful steps” to achieve this goal, even as it expands its global operations. “As one of the world's leading semiconductor design and manufacturing companies, Intel is in a truly unique position to make a difference that extends far beyond our own operations,” he said.

Intel said it intends to each net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across its business operations – in the so-called Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions plans – by 2040. It will use carbon offsets to achieve its goal only if it is unable to meet these targets through reductions in its own carbon dioxide emissions, it claimed.

To achieve this, the firm said it will invest approximately $300m in energy conservation at its facilities, with the aim of saving a total of four billion kilowatt hours of energy. That's not only a good green goal, but sound business sense as well, one might argue.

But Intel claimed it is also addressing climate impacts throughout its upstream and downstream value chain, known as Scope 3 emissions, a strategy that requires it to work with suppliers and customers on energy conservation and renewable energy sourcing, and on increasing chemical and resource efficiencies.

Intel has also committed to building new facilities to meet US Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program standards, and said that this extends to recently announced investments to build fabrication plants in Europe and Asia as well as the US.

Intel also said it is working with industry partners to deliver liquid immersion cooling pilot deployments for datacenter facilities used by cloud and communications service providers, which will heat recapture and reuse it.

But the semiconductor industry has a long way to go to clean up its act, and it isn’t all just about carbon dioxide emissions, even though a 2020 paper on the environmental footprint of computing found that IT is expected to account for as much as 20 percent of global energy demand by 2030, and that manufacturing accounts for most of the carbon emissions from computer systems rather than their operational energy consumption.

Last year, the Guardian reported that Intel’s manufacturing facility in Ocotillo, Arizona, produced nearly 15,000 tons of waste in the first three months of the year, with about 60 percent of it being hazardous. The plant is also said to have consumed enough fresh water to fill about 1,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Gelsinger claimed that Intel is making excellent progress towards achieving "net positive water use" by the end of the decade, which is a rather awkward phrase that apparently means capturing and recycling water to the point where you output more water than is consumed. Where does this extra water come from? Collected rain, for instance.

These targets are said to play a part in Intel’s commitment to sustainable business practices, like its RISE strategy, announced in 2020. As part of this, Intel claims that its greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade have been 75 percent lower than they would have been if it had not taken action to lower them.

However, as The Register reported last year, Intel's facility in Leixlip, Ireland, consumed in one quarter the equivalent electrical power drawn by nearly 60,000 of the area's homes. Intel has been purchasing 100 percent renewable electricity for the site since 2017, though the figure includes contributions from non-renewable sources including natural gas and oil.

So while Intel’s latest moves towards environmental sustainability are welcome, it is clear there is still a lot of work that needs doing to minimize the semiconductor industry's environmental impact. ®

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