BOX 5.2 Industry and the Natural Environment: Reducing Intel’s Environmental Footprint—A Case Study

Intel, manufacturer of microprocessors, changes its manufacturing process every 2 years as it miniaturizes the next generation of computer chips. During each transition, reported Terrence McManus of Intel, there are major opportunities for environmental improvements, for example, through chemical selection, facility design, waste management, ergonomics, and manufacturing equipment selection.

The Resource Conservation Recovery Act, or RCRA, required companies to focus on waste minimization, which resulted in an evolution in the technology. In making changes, Intel often has to make critical choices with different environmental implications, for example, should the chemical be consumed in the product or should the company “borrow” the chemical from the manufacturer and return it for recycling?

Other aspects of planning include projecting over 10 years, or five generations of manufacturing, to predict environmental health and safety impacts. Goals are then set that must be integrated into the design development process as opposed to being some appendage to it.

Examples exist from improvements made in past transitions. For example, one process uses hydrofluoric acid to etch wafers. Intel reduced the water use in this process by 40 percent and achieved better management of the exhaust, which actually reduced energy use. Other efforts have resulted in the recycling of hazardous waste and reductions in emissions of volatile organic compounds: currently 37 percent of waste is recycled; 17 percent goes to energy recovery; and 46 percent goes to landfill, incineration, or other treatment. Intel has been able to reduce water and energy use per manufacturing unit on each of its last four generations of semiconductor technology. Intel also builds ergonomics into the equipment, going so far as to design a handbook for the people who make its equipment.

Intel’s StRUT program, or Students Recycling Used Technology, recycles personal computers, after students have upgraded and cleaned the hard drives, for donation to schools and nonprofit organizations.

A key to Intel’s successful environmental record, said McManus, has been the company’s ability to put together a green plan that integrates design for the environment while aiming for sustainable activities of other operations, which often requires partners in diverse fields to make it work.

Design, as McDonough, Lovins, and others are defining it, begins by seeing nature as the standard for what humans do: how we farm, how we build, how we work, and how we live. They see civilization as being powered by contemporary sunlight, not ancient sunlight stored as fossil fuel. They see design, when we get it right, as protecting diversity—not just biological diversity but cultural diversity as well. They see an economic system, when we get the design right, characterized by prices that tell the truth about what we do in the world. Finally, when we get design right, said McDonough, we do not just recycle waste, we eliminate the very concept of waste.

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