Intel’s General Manager for Eco-Technology and GoGreen ’11 Portland Keynote Speaker, Lorie Wigle, has her eye fixed on the business opportunities in sustainability. Using Intel technology, she and her team are tackling our biggest environmental problems by increasing efficiency, driving systemic integration and empowering people with the tools to make smarter choices about their energy and resource consumption.
GoGreen Conference: Tell us about the connections between Intel’s penchant for chasing invention, ingenuity and discovery as a technology company, and sustainability. How does a greener mindset fit into that picture?
Lorie Wigle: It’s interesting because that question causes us to ask: What does sustainability mean? There’s a writer and proprietor at Greenbiz.com, Joel Makower, who has formed a framework to describe it in the context of business. His theory is that companies go through three stages of evolution in sustainability.
The first one is to do no harm. For Intel that’s very germane to the way we run our factories. Our factories use energy and water. If we want to do no harm, we have to figure out how to minimize our impact. Intel has actually been reporting our environmental footprint since 1994. We make goals well in advance of necessity and we look closely at our environmental footprint in order to ensure we’re meeting them across the board.
The second stage, as Joel puts it, is to do well by doing good. A great example of that at Intel is how we look at our microprocessors. Microprocessors are used in servers, data centers and the notebook computers and smartphones we all carry around with us. Energy efficiency has become a prime basis for competition with the microprocessor—so the more energy efficient we make our products, the better we do in the marketplace and by the environment.
We did an analysis for our CEO recently, looking at the overall energy consumption of the first one billion connected PCs. There were approximately one billion connected PCs in 2007 and together they consumed about 320 terawatt hours of energy per year. Now, we’re forecasting there will be two billion connected PCs globally by the end of 2014—but the amazing thing is that those two billion PCs will use half the energy that the first billion used, and they’ll do seventeen times as much work. The reason for that is that we’ve been able to capitalize on Moore’s Law—which is the doubling of transistors every 18 to 24 months—to drive better energy efficiency and form factors. Through things like this, we do well by doing good.
The third stage that Joel talks about is figuring out how to grow the top line, or revenue, by offering environmentally sound products and services. We’ve been thinking a lot at Intel about how our technologies can be applied to solving big environmental challenges. We’re asking questions like: How can we use technology to reinvent the electricity grid and drive the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency? How can we use Intel technology to manage water better, as it becomes a more scare resource across the planet? How can we use our technology to make transportation systems more intelligent, so that we’re using less fuel? You know, a third of cars driving around in any given metropolitan area are typically looking for parking places. So if we can create technology that allows you to reserve a parking spot or show you where an open one is, we’ll be saving lot of time, fuel, pollution and money.
GG: You mentioned finding ways to conserve and be more efficient with resources such as water. That’s a hot topic right now and will likely continue to be so going forward. How are Intel products contributing towards our ability to conserve water and other resources?
LW: I spend a lot of time trying to figure out things like how an Intel processor can be used in a metropolitan water district to detect leaks and provide better management information to the people who are determining how to optimize their water use within a city. Internally we’re also looking closely at our FABs (fabrication plants) for ways we can return water to a high level of purity after the manufacturing process, so that we can replenish aquifers rather than drain them.
Looking at water, my team has identified three new business opportunities. One of them is what I just described to you—managing municipal water supplies. It turns out that in many cities, upwards of 40 percent of water loss is a result of leaks or theft. And that’s true across developed and developing countries across the planet. It’s not just a problem for the developing world.
The second area we’ve been looking at is watershed management. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Bull Run Watershed management tour. It was fascinating. If you look at managing something like the Bull Run Watershed, there’s great deal of processing that goes into modeling what will happen with the watershed under various scenarios of rainfall, heat indexes and water usage. They told us that right now, the Watershed and connected reservoirs are relatively full because we had a relatively cool summer in the Pacific Northwest. We haven’t been drawing it down as much in the Portland area as we would during a scorcher. But that changes yearly and when we do have those hot summers, effective management of the resource is crucial to being able to provide water to the metropolitan population.
The third area we’re looking at is the nexus of agriculture and water. Many people don’t realize it, but so much of our water is used for crops. We’re building technology that lets us more effectively manage water in agricultural settings. We already have some really interesting projects underway using moisture-sensing technology combined with weather prediction technology that gives farmers very direct instructions about when and how much to water their fields. As you look across these environmental categories—such as water, agriculture, energy and weather—they often intersect to a great extent. If you’re find ways to save water, you’re probably also saving energy, because you don’t need to pump as much water. And having better information about weather patterns helps you optimize the use of water, which optimizes agricultural output. It’s all intertwined.
GG: Moving into the process of goal setting. What are your team’s “BHAGS”? What big, hairy, audacious goals are you chasing and what was the process for setting them?
LW: We don’t have a set of quantified goals for our program. What we have is a vision statement that applies to all aspects of our program and it’s that we will always strive to develop and use Intel technology to empower everyone to care for the planet in their own capacity.
The reason we’ve adopted a vision that includes both technology and empowering people with it is because we believe there is an incredibly important role for technology to play in terms of driving sustainability—not just in automating things, but also in providing people information about their environmental footprint and the impact of their decisions. Enabling technology to be a means of empowering people is very important to us.
Take, for example, the energy industry. We’ve done a lot of work on developing the smart grid, with a focus on consumers of energy. What does it mean to empower them more than they are today? We want to make electricity consumption as personal as your personal computing is today. Intel played a large role in the evolution of personal computing, so we started to think about how we can parallel that impact in terms of electricity usage. What if you could go to Home Depot and buy a backyard wind turbine, bring it home and a screen on your PC pops up with a prompt to configure your new energy generation device? And it’s as seamless as plugging in a mouse to your PC today?
There’s a huge amount of work needed to make that technology interoperable and to put standards in place. The treadmill of innovation needs to be enabled, and that’s why we think Intel can help drive development and adoption of more sustainable life tools. As we give consumers better controls and information about their energy use, we think we’ll see behavior change. We can give homeowners the ability to compare their energy use day-to-day, appliance versus appliance, and make better decisions. We can also work at the commercial scale and help reduce energy consumption in the work setting. Even if a typical office building lowers consumption by 10 percent via the use of a smart grid, that’s still a pretty significant contribution.
GG: Sustainability was recently added into Intel’s charter. Why is it important to get it into the core of the brand, rather than just developing a Green Team and letting them handle it?
LW: Sustainability has certainly been part of our goals at Intel for quite some time. A number of years ago, we embraced safety as part of the culture. We really thought about what it means for something like that to be ingrained into our culture. A big part of it is that permeation throughout an organization. Five years ago there were advocates for energy efficiency, but it kept becoming a trade-off in favor of other features. So we started to put bonus and compensation goals around products that achieved greater energy efficiency in order to drive the technology. Today we don’t have to do that. All of the project teams understand energy efficiency is as critical as performance, and that things like battery life are crucial to the consumers who buy our products. That one aspect has made its way into the mainstream and is a point of competitive advantage for us now. Likewise, there are aspects of sustainability that are permeating the company and society across the board, and there are others that require the attention of specialists.
GG: We often hear about the upfront costs of making capital investments in sustainability. But a trend in thinking that we’ve noticed taking shape—at the least from business leaders looking at the long-term viability of their organizations—is that sustainability can really help you make sound capital investments. That it can help your company survive harder economic times, but also that it will set you up for success when the economy hits its stride again. How has this broad focus on sustainability helped Intel develop products that sell in both high and low economic times?
LW: We’ve always had the philosophy that it’s important to keep investing through a downturn and that includes investing in continued improvements in our sustainability practices across the company. That mindset has worked out extremely well for Intel and become deeply ingrained in the corporate culture. I think the interesting thing about Intel, and more generally, about Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is that they can help us get to where we need to go faster. We need to drive greater use of ICT as we move into a carbon-constrained world. Everyone has views on if and/or when there will be a price put on carbon output. But the reality is that we are quickly moving towards a world where if there isn’t an explicit price on carbon, there will still be significant limits in place via codes, etc. We have to prepare to compete in that world.
We believe very strongly that the adoption of ICT can play a huge role in helping us achieve those goals and studies show this to be true. We recently commissioned a study on digital music delivery. When people think about downloading music from iTunes, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the fact that they’re saving the planet in the process. But when you buy music on a CD, you make somewhere between 40-80 percent more impact on the planet—through raw materials and resource consumption, plus packaging and transportation impacts—than you would with a digital download. That includes the server and communications infrastructure that is required for digital downloads. And most industries have similar examples where converting atoms to bits can deliver significantly more value to their audience with less impact on the planet.
GG: Since we’re moving into a political cycle, there is a lot of talk about the politicizing of sustainability and climate change. In the midst of political stalemate on climate change, with no unforeseeable end in sight, how do you think the private sector can continue to make real progress on sustainability on its own? Can business drive a revolution in both technology and mindsets across America?
LW: When you get down to it, the private sector is in the business of serving shareholders as profitable enterprises. We are going to do things that uphold our profitability. But there are also tremendous business opportunities in sustainability. I think we will see more and more people looking for that win-win outcome—where a company makes a positive impact on the environment and a positive impact on revenue and profit at the same time. The enlightening thing for us has been to look at the world though an environmental lens. Yes, we want to grow revenue as a main tenant of our own sustainability as a company. But when you start to look at things this way, you discover new opportunities through creating solutions to environmental challenges with your technology or offering. And in that way, you can increase your positive impact on the world in a way that consumers appreciate, while still serving your shareholders simultaneously.
Lorie Wigle is the General Manager for Eco-Technology at Intel and President of Climate Savers Computing. Learn more from Lorie at GoGreen ’11 Portland, where she will give plenary remarks, October 4th. For more information on GoGreen ’11 Portland or to register, please visit: portland.gogreenconference.net. Get the latest GoGreen ’11 and sustainability news by joining our email list or via our Twitter feed (@GoGreenPDX) and Facebook Page (facebook.com/gogreenconference).