Chip giant Intel is the latest tech company to throw its hat in the net zero ring. On Wednesday, the company committed to bringing its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2040. But there's a catch: The plan only focuses on Intel's operations, leaving out Scope 3 emissions, which are generally the biggest source of carbon pollution.
This commitment includes cutting down its emissions from Scope 1 (largely raw materials) and Scope 2 (largely manufacturing) to net zero. While it does not quantify how much of this zeroing out will involve relying on carbon offsets, it does specify in a press release that “it will use credible carbon offsets to achieve its goal only if other options are exhausted.” That's good, given that a credible climate plan will only rely on offsets for the hardest-to-reduce emissions, but the proof will be in the pudding.
Intel has committed to interim targets, another must for credibility. By 2030, the semiconductor designer and manufacturer’s plans include using exclusively renewables for electricity across its operations and investing roughly $300 million in energy conservation. Reducing energy demand and building out renewables are two of the main strategies the recent United Nations climate report identified as being particularly effective in the near term.
A portion of these efficiency gains and emissions reductions will ideally come from a shift in Intel’s approach to the chemicals required in its chipmaking process. The company said it plans to launch a research and development initiative “to identify greener chemicals with lower global warming potential and to develop new abatement equipment” by 2030. At present, the chemicals that are integral to Intel’s process include perfluorocarbons and other gasses that warm the planet thousands of times more than carbon dioxide.
“We need to look fundamentally at the chemistry and if we can come up with completely new chemistries that have zero global warming potential,” Intel Chief Sustainability Officer Todd Brady told the Wall Street Journal. “It will be a big, big change.”
Meanwhile, Intel has extended some emissions reduction goals to its supply chain writ large. However, those goals are vague at best, and could be difficult to measure. The company committed to working with suppliers to getting its supply chain-related emissions “to at least 30% lower by 2030 than they would be in the absence of investment and action.” This is substantially weaker than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said is necessary.
As both a chip designer and manufacturer, Intel is in the fairly unique position of controlling most of the emissions related to its final product, as opposed to competitors that do only one or the other.
But the company makes no promises regarding its Scope 3 emissions, which means that it is — at least, for now — skipping any commitment to limit the climate impact of distributing and using its products. The plan does include a hand-wave at them, noting the company reports “the additional energy used over the product's lifetime,” and will work to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions. Without a hard and fast goal, though, that amounts to little more than a pinky swear at this point — and we're going to need a little more than that.