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Water Wednesday: 3 water management tips from Intel

Water Wednesday: 3 water management tips from Intel

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Think local, look to the community for mutual interests, and look deeper than absolute reductions.

Contributor's Note: This is an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

3 tenets driving Intel's water management strategy

I recently caught up with Suzanne Fallender, director of corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and communications for technology giant. Given the company's footprint in manufacturing, Intel has been focused on managing its water situation for way longer than we have been tagging such efforts as part of corporate sustainability strategies.

That doesn't mean Intel has an easy time of it.

Here are some facts from Fallender and the company most recent CSR report. Over time (since about 1998), Intel has saved an estimated 40 billion gallons of water while investing more than $100 million in technologies and initiatives to take action in this area. Last year, it “withdrew” 8.15 million gallons of water, which was slightly above 2009 levels. By next year, Intel hopes to reduce water use on a per-chip basis below 2007 levels. Right now, it estimates it takes 16 gallons of water to produce a single chip. Another figure, Intel recycled approximately 2 billion gallons of water. That is approximately 25 percent of its total consumption.

So what is Intel doing to improve its water management strategy. Here are three themes:

  1. Look for ways to cooperate with the local community. That's the philosophy that informed the way that Intel uses water at its campus near the city of Chandler, Ariz. Intel has partnered with the city to use water usage technologies that benefit both the company and the local community. For example, Intel funded an advanced reverse osmosis plant that treats the process wastewater back to drink water standards. The Ocotillo campus also receives a direct feed of water not suitable for drinking from the City of Chandler's waste water treatment plant. The company reports that 100 percent of the irrigation water and 95 percent of the cooling tower water is non-potable. All this was a factor in Intel's ability to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification for the Ocotillo facility. There is similar work going on in Israel.
  2. Don't overlook the impact that energy efficiency measures will also have on water consumption. Fallender says Intel has hired an outside expert to help it understand more about the water-energy nexus; that is, the link between driving down energy usage and managing water consumption.
  3. When footprinting water, remember to account for local risks and don't look at the absolute numbers. Let's face it, the water resources and supply is very different in a place like Oregon, where Intel has a major campus, compared with Arizona, where its manufacturing is sited. Intel is looking for ways to more closely measure what Fallender calls "water stress" adjusted impact. "It's not just about the absolute reduction," she said. Rather, it is about how you use, reuse and replenish water in different regions of the world.

To that final point, Fallender says there are water management strategies that the entire company will embrace -- for example, something like common irrigation strategies, always using native plants for landscaping, low-flush or use fixtures. That will be balanced by individual efforts that relieve each location's unique water stress points.

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Heather Clancy

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Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure