Intel will surpass Sony and the Air Force this year to become the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. So what’s next for the greener chipmaker? We sat down with Dave Stangis, Intel’s director of corporate responsibility, when he was in San Francisco to speak at the Carbon Footprint Consumer Products Summit.
Corporate responsibility doesn’t mean corporate charity. Stangis mentioned ROIs more than he mentioned RECs. The business of being green is still very much, well, a business.
Has “the carbon footprint” proven to be an effective tool for Intel?
“We know our operational footprint down to the tenth of a pound,” Stangis said. But the problem, he explained, is that Intel’s operational energy costs account for only 20 percent of the energy of all of their products and services. The other 80 percent is in the customer’s hands. But Stangis admits the carbon footprint is an imperfect tool. “We’ve had some discussions internally about how we could make new metrics that you or I could understand.” He added, “It won’t be long. They’re already labeling in the EU. And EnergyStar is a start. What you’re going to see is companies coming up with their own labeling schemes.”
What is Intel doing to combat e-waste?
“We’re a leading partner in eBay’s Rethink Initiative,” Stangis pointed out, referring to the online auctioneer’s forum for industry, government and environmental organizations to work together on e-waste. But on the manufacturing side Intel is also pushing down energy costs. “We had to thin down our chips for the Apple Air,” he said. “We’re working now to go lead-free and halogen-free. Energy is always there [as a goal], but then there are these specific materials. We’re really the only guy inside the computer doing this. Dell and others are doing a great job, but theirs is a different business.”
How can a company best counter accusations of greenwashing?
Transparency, Stangis said immediately, is the key. He claimed that Intel has been upfront about its practices by filing Corporate Responsibility Reports for the past 14 years. “It comes out at the annual shareholders’ meeting. It’s grown from 40 to 100 pages. It became insane, we stopped printing the thing!” Now it’s on the web for anyone to access. “It’s basically our calling card for our transparency.”
But Stangis knows that claiming to “be green” opens a company up to a lot of scrutiny. “We scrubbed the word ‘offset’ out of everything we did,” he said in reference to the one billion renewable energy certificates Intel is buying for its green power. “There’s some stigma attached to it. With the FTC investigating people like Volkswagen, why go there if you don’t have to? We don’t want to wrap ourselves in this green blanket.”
Why didn’t Intel participate in the letter sent to Congress supporting renewable energy tax breaks, signed by John Doerr, Google and about 100 other tech companies?
“Stephen Harper is our energy guy in D.C.; you’d have to ask him about that. Google is taking a little bit of a different approach to renewable energy to us.”
So, what’s next for a greener Intel?
“We know where it’s going. There should be some guide of mandatory regulatory framework. There should be some sort of trading system like they have in Europe.” He said he hopes for one national framework but in the meantime laments how some states have been slow to move. “Arizona hasn’t caught up and we’ve got several facilities there,” he commented, saying that with better incentives Intel could tap into the solar energy potential on their facilities roofs.
Stangis ended by stressing that the company needs to figure out how to bridge the gap between corporate responsibility and consumer responsibility. “You won’t have any credibility outside until you have your house in order,” he said. He hopes that as the industry changes its behavior, so will customers, but it won’t be easy. “It’s hard to convince Joe Six-Pack that him leaving his computer on all the time matters.”