Coming clean on being green
  • | | December 13, 2009 09:20 PM

Rick Howarth – General Manager, Intel Products Vietnam, discusses the next steps to a sustainable future in an exclusive article for DTiNews.

As we have navigated what has been one of the most turbulent economic times in recent history, investments that were not explicitly linked to the core of the business have been difficult to justify. Some would say sustainability has taken a back seat while more pressing economic considerations were addressed during the course of the global financial crisis. However, to ensure a sustainable future we must encourage the opposite approach.

The global recession has raised the consciousness around the use of resources with emphasis on cost reduction. Tough times – and the lack of emphasis on sustainable practices which, it could be argued, were at the heart of problems behind the crisis – should now be moving government and industry beyond ‘green washing’ and a tokenistic approach to sustainability efforts.

Combating climate change remains firmly on the international agenda, particularly in Asia. According to the Asian Development Bank report published in April 2009, climate change is one of the major impediments to poverty reduction in the region. Coming out of the financial crisis, members of the G-20 have agreed to build an inclusive, green, and sustainable recovery. Environmental imperatives, an increased focus on ROI and profitability and a heightened emphasis on sustainable practices mean thinking clean and green is no longer but an option – but now a mandatory requirement.

The failures that led to the crisis have also underlined the imperative to think beyond the present and invest in the future. Challenges associated with innovation and growth can be addressed via collaboration with governments and strategic investment in clean technology (cleantech). Cleantech describes products and services that improve performance, productivity and efficiencies while reducing costs, energy consumption and pollution. Beyond what businesses can do to operate sustainably today, we now need to think about the most effective ways to address what lies ahead. Other countries already are on this path – witness China’s current focus on building a domestic cleantech industry.

Cleantech describes products and services that improve performance, productivity and efficiencies while reducing costs, energy consumption and pollution.

According to CSR Europe’s Sustainable Marketing Guide, sustainable development means considering the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ of People, Planet, Profit to ensure a future for business, industry and the broader economy. With this in mind, businesses should immediately look to assess three areas – sustainable operations, responsible product design and global citizenship, to ensure that they are holistically reviewing their sustainability strategy. How should businesses begin?

Responsible operations

Businesses must analyze the environmental impact of their operations, involving stakeholders in the process. Clear environmental indicators/performance goals must be prioritized – ideally, against internationally recognised benchmarks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Index.

For example, Environmental Health and Safety Engineers integrate ‘design for the environment’ principles into all phases of Intel product manufacturing processes and building design. For more than a decade, Intel has set formal goals in its corporate responsibility focus areas, helping to drive accountability and continuous improvement.

Eco-smart products

Secondly, organizations need to think about the environment impact of their products and services as they are used by customers. In November 2007, Intel introduced 45 nanometer processors, which are up to 40 percent more energy efficient than the previous generation of products and are the first lead-free microprocessors. Intel made these processors halogen free in 2008.

In addition to ‘greening’ its own products, Intel has worked with industry standards organiza¬tions to develop computing platforms that deliver greater performance with lower power requirements. For example, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Intel developed guidelines for more efficient system power supplies, which can absorb as much as 50 percent of the energy used in a PC.

Collaborate on sustainability initiatives

A sustainability strategy is not just about technology, but about collaboration with governments, environmental groups and industry. Taking leadership by promoting voluntary sustainability initiatives and working proactively with key stakeholders to address the challenges associated with climate change is vital for the commercial sector. For example, in 2007, Intel and Google launched the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, with the goal of driving more energy-efficient computing by both individuals and businesses by uniting industry, government, consumers and environmental groups. The goal is to reduce computer CO2 emissions by 54 million tons per year by 2010, equal to the annual output of 11 million cars or 10–20 coal-fired power plants. Intel is also a key member of The Green Grid, which focuses on developing standards to measure data center efficiency.

Involving employees and the local community is also vital in demonstrating an organization’s commitment to the environment – the more people who hear about environmentally responsible practices, the more will emulate them. Activities such as performing volunteer work in conjunction with events such as the annual Global Earth Day, as well as organizing employee education and training to raise awareness of sustainability issues, is also another effective way to ensure that an organization involves its employees in its environmental initiatives.

The future is now

Protecting the environment while stimulating the economy, creating jobs, fostering industry development and accelerating innovation are crucial elements in ensuring long-term sustainability. Looking beyond their operations today, businesses need to think about what lies ahead.

It is here that cleantech comes into play. Clean technology has implications far beyond the IT sector – it extends to traditional and alternative energy sources, deployment of alternative energy generation (from solar and wind for example) and the best use of resources to increase energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy. Cleantech has the potential to entirely transform vital sectors such as transportation.

According to research published by the Cleantech Group in 2008, clean technology venture investments in North America, Europe, China and India totalled a record $8.4 billion, while research by Report Buyer predicts that the global market for cleantech products and services will exceed $1.3 trillion by 2017. And while the first half of 2009 saw a dip in cleantech venture investments (compared to the same period in 2008), this was not to the same extent as financial markets overall, or venture capital investing in general. Moreover, results released for the second half of the year show a steady recovery.

Cleantech is now being heralded as a game-changing approach to the infrastructure and economic development of a country – something that will set a country apart and enable leadership.
Cleantech has the potential to stimulate economy through job creation, industry development and accelerated innovation. Along with domestic policies, countries need to work together to strengthen the investment climate – and it appears there is a drive in the region to ensure this coordination happens like never before. Governments, both globally and in Asia, are allocating increasing levels of funding to clean technology development and adoption through stimulus packages and tax incentives, and public investment in cleantech within Asia has been gaining momentum.

Knowledge and creativity in solving the environmental challenges of design and production are equally as important as creating and developing the next innovation in technology. These ideas work hand in hand – cleantech is an example of how, today, environmental impact cannot be divorced from economic growth and long-term social benefits. A sustainable approach is the only way forward – the green movement is no longer fragmented and immature, but steeped in every facet of government policy and commercial growth.

Commercial organizations must integrate environmental considerations into every corner of their operations – from sustainable manufacturing processes, to leading the way in energy-efficient products, to driving government initiatives, community engagement and industry collaboration. Only then can we work together to minimize the human race’s environmental impact today, while taking steps to address the challenges of the future.