Why the Future of Sustainability Requires Innovative Policy

By Stephen Harper, Global Director, Environment and Energy Policy at Intel Corporation

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the human impact on the world around us. Nature is reclaiming public spaces, and the decrease in global pollution was dramatic enough to be seen from space with the help of NASA satellites. For the first time, the United States is on track to have renewable energy surpass coal this year, due in part to COVID-19. While no one would wish for a pandemic, these changes remind us of the world we could have if we make the right choices.

Intel has always believed climate change to be a serious environmental, economic and social challenge requiring a coordinated, thoughtful response by both the private sector and governments around the world. This is critical as we chart a path forward that incorporates lessons learned for how we can better preserve our planet for the future.

Solar parking structures at Intel Corporation’s Ocotillo, Arizona, campus.

As part of our recently released corporate responsibility strategy, Intel set aggressive goals around sustainability leading up to 2030. As a company, we have made tremendous strides around sustainability so far. Notably, Intel has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent on an intensity basis from a 2010 baseline, reduced water usage by 38 percent on a per unit basis and sent zero hazardous waste to landfills. This past April – Earth Day 2020 – we announced that Intel-supported projects have restored approximately 1 billion gallons of water to local watersheds in the U.S. That’s enough water to support more than 9,000 U.S. homes for a year. By 2030, we will achieve net positive water use, 100% renewable power, zero total waste to landfill, and additional absolute carbon emissions reductions, even as we grow our manufacturing capacity.

Climate change is a collective challenge that requires a collective solution. We will only solve both problems through collaboration among communities, industries and policymakers. To solve our sustainability challenges, smart public policy should incentivize companies to practice responsible sourcing and conservation of natural resources, including mineral sourcing and water recycling. Those policies should consider not only individual companies but their entire supply chains.

Any climate legislation developed by Congress should include federal support for information and communications technology (ICT) innovation to combat the effects of climate change. For example, governments could incent climate-related technical innovation through a combination of EPA- and DOE-funded pilot projects. Governments could also create market pull for innovation by developing market-based climate policies such as cap-and-trade, carbon taxes or other means of “pricing carbon.”

Intel will continue to be a global leader in sustainability. In addition to making changes to our own operations, we want to expand our commitment and work to solve challenges that can only be addressed in collaboration across organizations, industries and countries. For instance, we will work with our customers and others to create the most sustainable and energy-efficient PC in the world – one that eliminates carbon, water and waste in its design and use. In addition, we will create a collective approach to reducing emissions for the semiconductor manufacturing industry, while increasing the use of technology to reduce the negative impact of climate change. We are also working with companies in the ICT industry, and companies in other industries that use ICT in critical parts of their manufacturing, to help develop climate policies at all levels of government, and to demonstrate ICT solutions at work. This effort will take the form of the Digital Climate Alliance.

Today, our world is facing serious challenges, with the pandemic on one hand, in addition to the equally urgent need for action on climate change. At Intel, we’ve already taken action, and over the next 10 years we plan to continue making tremendous strides toward our sustainability goals. The time to act on climate change is now, and we’re ready to lead the charge. We look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders in the U.S. government and around the world to drive a positive and measurable impact in sustainability.