Electronics firms tackle sustainability issues

While it may be in part due to Earth Day this week, many electronics companies — including AMD, IBM, Motorola and UMC — are rushing to release their corporate sustainability reports and goals, aimed at driving down both energy consumption and carbon emissions. It also impacts their supply chain.

These companies, along with their competitors, are making significant commitments throughout their operations to meet, in some cases, pretty tough environmental goals.

Carbon neutrality is the challenge

As an example, United Microelectronics Corp., a global semiconductor foundry in Taiwan, plans to announce its new climate change policy and carbon emission reduction plans on Earth Day, April 22, kicking off a one-month series of related environmental protection activities leading up to the company’s anniversary celebration on May 20.

UMC’s green efforts include establishing a New Business Development Center to promote the growth of a low-carbon economy by investing in renewable energy including solar, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The company’s first investments include LED lighting company Power Light Co. and photovoltaic engineering design company EverRich Energy Corporation.

UMC’s climate policy will include reduction targets of 33 percent for normalized perfluorinated compound (PFC) emissions and 3 percent for electricity use by 2012. Once completed, CO2 emission will be reduced by another 170,000 tons each year, bringing the total CO2 emission reduction achieved through UMC’s carbon reduction measures to 43 percent, or approximately 1.1 million tons per year.

PFC emissions will be reduced by as much as 75 percent with the new plan when combined with existing efforts, according to UMC.

UMC’s ultimate goal: carbon neutral status. The company’s carbon management program includes energy savings, emissions reduction, supply-chain management and low- carbon products production. For example, in 2007, UMC led the foundry industry in completing the replacement of C2F6 with C3F8 in all of its fabs, reducing CO2 emissions by 450,000 tons per year. The more carbon efficient C4F8 was introduced in 2008.

Transparency in environmental reporting

In a move to improve the transparency of its corporate responsibility reporting, microprocessor maker AMD has launched a new Web hub page and brochure that outlines its environmental performance for 2009.

A big factor that changed AMD’s environmental footprint in 2009, compared to 2008, was the transfer of its manufacturing assets to GLOBALFOUNDRIES, which shifted the majority of the company’s environmental impact to the supply chain. It also resulted in AMD resetting its environmental performance baseline to 2009 for future environmental performance goals, which should be reported in the next report.

AMD’s new product strategy includes helping customers reduce their energy consumption by developing energy-efficient processors. As an example, AMD’s Opteron 6000 series platform provides a 61 percent performance increase using the same power and thermal envelope as the previous generation.

AMD also reduced the packaging used for its processor-in-a-box (PIB) products, cutting the cubic volume of PIB packaging by up to 47 percent, which yielded approximately $4 million in annual savings in materials and shipping costs. This reduced AMD’s packaging requirements by 419 tons, preventing the emissions of about 1,352 metric tons of greenhouse gases.

AMD uses two key strategies — conserving energy and purchasing renewable power — to reduce the company’s carbon footprint at offices, labs and manufacturing sites.

AMD’s Lone Star campus in Austin, Texas, for example, is 100-percent powered by clean energy, and achieved the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED gold certification. The microprocessor maker estimates that the facility uses nearly 20 percent less energy and 35 percent less indoor potable water compared to non-LEED office buildings.

Honesty is the best policy

Motorola has reduced its CO2 emissions by 35 percent since 2005 thanks to energy-efficiency efforts, buying renewable energy and consolidating facilities, according to the company’s 2009 Corporate Responsibility Report. Although the communications equipment giant has reduced its total emissions of CO2e since 2005, the company’s normalized emissions increased slightly due to weaker sales in 2009.

As a result, Motorola has established a new strategy to reduce its climate impact by committing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from operations by 15 percent by the end of 2010, compared with 2005 (normalized to sales), and to cut its absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent by the end of 2010, compared with 2000 to meet the company’s Chicago Climate Exchange commitment.

Motorola also plans to increase its purchase of electricity from renewable sources to 30 percent by 2020, and implement more energy-efficiency measures across its operations. So far, the company has purchased 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2010.

Some of the energy-saving measures implemented in 2009 include improving control systems on heating and air-conditioning systems, using motion sensors to switch off lights, improving the efficiency of wastewater treatment, and modifying building management systems.

Although Motorola set 2010 goals to reduce hazardous waste by 30 percent from 2005 levels, the company produced 458 tons of hazardous waste in 2009 compared to 319 tons in 2005. The company attributes the significant increase to reclassification of electronics waste from non-hazardous to hazardous in China and Malaysia.

The company also plans to increase the recovery and recycling rate of non-hazardous waste to 90 percent in 2010. Progress has been slow, decreasing from 79 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2009.

However, Motorola shines in the product arena. The company is developing eco-friendly phones, such as the MOTO W233 Renew and the MOTOCUBO A45 Eco, made using post-consumer recycled plastics and certified CarbonFree. The company’s design strategy includes the use of environmentally-preferred materials, higher amounts of recycled materials, reduced packaging and increased recyclability.

The company’s GPS products are also said to help reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. According to a Motorola study in 2008, U.S. transport executives found that trucks fitted with GPS technology travel 230 miles a week less on average, saving about 6 tons of CO2 emissions per year per truck.

Motorola has also reduced CO2e emissions from business travel by 27 percent and cut volatile organic material (VOM) emissions by 64 percent since 2007. The company also reduced water consumption from 3,534 cubic meters in 2005 to 2,308 cubic meters in 2009, and saves about 34,600 m2 of paper each year due to a shift to electronic statements.

Extending sustainability across the supply chain

IBM just announced a new management system that will address their “first-tier” suppliers’ corporate and environmental responsibilities. This is a big deal since IBM has about 28,000 first-tier suppliers in 90 countries.

IBM’s suppliers are now required to meet three new requirements:

  • Define, deploy, and sustain a management system that addresses corporate responsibility, including supplier conduct and environmental protection
  • Measure performance and establish voluntary, quantifiable environmental goals
  • Publicly disclose results associated with these voluntary environmental goals and other environmental aspects of their management systems

IBM said its management system has included various environmental and supply chain social requirements for its suppliers since the early 1970s. For example, in April 1998, IBM encouraged its suppliers to align their own environmental management systems with ISO 14001 and to pursue registration under the standard. This was followed in 2004 with IBM’s Supplier Conduct Principles that provides the company’s overall supply chain social and environmental expectations.

IBM also claims to be the first IC maker to eliminate perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) compounds from its chip making processes as part of its design for the environment program.