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Footprints and Handprints:
Harper on Intel's New Science-Based Climate Policy (Part 2)

In this latest installment of the #SustyGoals series, Bill Baue speaks with Stephen Harper, Global Director of Environment and Energy Policy at Intel, about the tech giant’s new science-based climate policy, released last month. In part one of this two-part interview, Harper explained the impetus for the policy and the mechanics of making it work. Here, Harper examines the micro and macro elements of the policy and what it means for Intel’s products.

Baue: That’s all focusing on the footprint side and the risk-mitigation side. It’s interesting that you pair that with the ICT handprint, in essence how your products act as a solution and opportunity. There are others in the field who are also heading in that direction. Can you speak about how that component plays into your business strategy?

Harper: Yeah, and it’s an ever more important part of what we do. I think if you combined our footprint and our handprint — I’m not just talking about Intel, or just semi-conductors, but the high-tech industry — if you combined the degree to which we are part of the problem and the degree to which we are part of the solution, I think we are a much greater part of the solution, and the combination of our handprint and footprint would be net good, rather than net bad, because of the growing evidence that the Internet and ICT in general is a big part of what’s behind the energy-efficiency actions that one could take that are the cheapest and easiest initial steps to reduce the threat to the climate.

We started about seven years ago. The terms we use are macro-story and micro-story, I’m not sure they’re very poetic, but the micro-story is things that governments have traditionally focused on — that’s the efficiency of the device itself. So, the EPA has Energy Star and Europe has their Energy Related Products Directive. Governments around the world have spent a lot of time putting pressure on all manner of products that use electricity to become more efficient. And our industry's products have become more efficient also just because of the change in form factors — the more mobile the technology has gotten, the more critical it is that the devices be energy-efficient. People don’t want a laptop that’s as hot as a nuclear reactor, they want their Mac[book] Air to have a powerful Intel chip in it that doesn’t require a fan and doesn't have hazardous chemicals in it to cool the chip. And they want mobile phones and notepads that run all day on a single battery charge. So those imperatives have driven a lot of progress — along with government regulations and programs like Energy Star.

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Harper: The macro-story is, how do those more efficient devices networked together drive greater efficiency through the rest of society. And it’s not just energy; we’re also focused on other natural resources like water. So this is the smart grid, Internet of things, intelligent logistics, building energy management systems, the smart water grid. All this stuff is driven by our technology – our industry’s technology. One great example is the increase of late in the availability of so-called smart grid-ready appliances. The ideal would be to live in an area where you have time-of-day pricing and utilities want to reduce peaks and so the energy would be more expensive at traditional peak times of the day and because of weather events and whatnot, the grid would communicate with your dishwasher to run at this time rather than that time. It would cycle air-conditioning units off 15 minutes at a time during a hot summer day to shave off the peak — that’s the sort of stuff that’s increasingly out there.

So what we did about 7 years ago is we created a group called the Digital Energy and Sustainability Solutions Campaign — DESSC. It’s a group that includes most of the major IT companies, the communications firms like AT&T and Verizon, a lot of companies like Johnson Controls and Schneider Electric, General Electric, that embed a lot of IT in their solutions, and a lot of NGOs in the climate and energy world like the Alliance to Save Energy and the Climate Group. So we founded that group and it’s grown over time and focuses on telling the macro-story and getting government to help develop policies to enable more of that kind of contribution to the solution side.

Baue: How do the micro- and macro-stories relate with one another?

Harper: One of the important messages that we try to convey, is that it’s not the macro versus the micro. We’re not telling governments, ‘don’t worry about the efficiency of the device — like, look over here not over there.’ We need to do both. The reality is that the gains to be gotten are much greater on the macro side than on the micro. But in order for us to be credible as an industry, we need to be doing as much as we can to make our own devices as efficient as possible.

Baue: Andrew Winston, who clued me into this policy, requested that I ask: What kinds of conversations needed to take place in order to go public with a policy like this — and in particular, was there any push back or any dynamic tension in the creation of this policy?

Harper: So this is probably the third iteration of a formal corporate policy statement we’ve had and all three have gotten the attention of, and been cleared by, the highest levels of our management. We have a senior management committee that meets quarterly that looks at our actions related to sustainability. I’m on the Policy side, my colleagues who are on the Environmental Health and Safety operations side and my colleagues who are on the Corporate Social Responsibility side — we kind of jointly use that senior management committee as a sounding board and as an approval body for any major changes that could be material to the company. Two months ago now, we reviewed the new statement with that committee — which includes our CEO, president, general counsel, and a variety of other senior managers — and got 100 percent support for what’s in the document.

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