LONDON – The semiconductor industry has responded to President Trump’s plan to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord with resounding reaffirmations of the industry’s commitment to sustainable and energy-efficient manufacturing practices.
Semiconductor companies including AMD, IBM, and Intel, alongside other tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, have signed an open letter expressing their commitment to action on climate change. For chip companies, adopting sustainable processes appears to be as much a matter of sound business practice as of social responsibility.
Intel, in particular, had called for the United States to stay in the agreement before the president announced his decision. “Climate change is a real issue, and we firmly believe that the U.S. should continue to participate in the Paris Climate Accord,” Stephen Harper, global director for environment and energy policy at Intel, said in the days leading up to the announcement. “Withdrawal won’t change our investment in renewable energy, and we will continue to advocate for the U.S. to engage.”
Harper further explained Intel’s position in a blog post, writing that pulling out of the Accord “would expose U.S. industry to a climate policy-constrained market over which we have greatly reduced influence.”
Industry association SEMI likewise published a statement strongly in favor of continued commitment to environmental and sustainability issues. EE Times spoke to the organization’s president and CEO, Ajit Manocha, about the potential ramifications of President Trump’s decision for the industry.
“The semiconductor industry commitment to sustainable manufacturing long preceded the climate accord. It will continue despite the U.S. withdrawal from the voluntary international framework,” said Manocha, a former CEO of GlobalFoundries. “While the industry’s contribution to the climate-change problem is relatively small in comparison to other sectors of the U.S. economy, our leadership role is very important as advocates of environmental stewardship and technical innovation.”
Manocha does not expect U.S. semiconductor companies to relax their sustainability policies as a result of the administration’s decision. “The motivation to protect the environment for future generations is genuine. I and most industry colleagues are passionate about our collective responsibility,” he said. “Sustainable manufacturing technologies are developed in close alignment with other facility and process improvements. Wafer fab investments, processes, and systems are not easily changed. Once advanced protocols are established, there is little incentive, short of efficiency or customer requirements, to alter parameters.”
He further pointed out that Trump’s decision could still be reversed, and in light of that possibility it would not make sense for the industry to change course. Pulling out of the accord requires a three-year waiting period from the country’s implementation date, followed by a one-year notice period, meaning the earliest the United States could be fully disengaged is November 2020.
“In that time, I expect to see more corporations, states, and other entities strengthen their focus on ‘green’ performance,” Manocha said.
Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) vice president of government affairs David Isaacs also published a statement in support of continued industry action on climate change. “By far the biggest role of semiconductors in driving sustainability is the contribution of semiconductor devices to energy efficiency throughout the economy,” Isaacs wrote. “Semiconductors—the fundamental enabling technology of modern electronics and information and communications technology (ICT)—provide the technological foundation for solutions that advance sustainability and energy efficiency gains in virtually all sectors of the economy.”
The SIA statement highlights past and present sustainability achievements, including the U.S. semiconductor manufacturing industry’s reduction of the total energy consumed by its operations by 34 percent between 2001 and 2015. Many industry-specific sustainability initiatives, alliances, and agreements are already in place that would not be affected by U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord. One example is the World Semiconductor Council’s voluntary agreement on action to reduce industry emissions of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), a group of greenhouse gases essential to semiconductor manufacturing. In the 10-year period to 2010, the WSC agreement reduced the industry’s PFC emissions by 32 percent, and new, ambitious targets are set for 2020.
Philippe Brun, STMicroelectronics’ corporate VP for human resources and sustainable development, cited the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), which addresses the industry’s global environmental and social impact, as another example of a widely subscribed industry agreement.
Brun noted in an e-mail exchange with EE Times that companies face increasing pressure from customers to reduce their environmental impact. “Today, thanks to the Internet, consumers are more aware of how the products they use are manufactured, and electronic equipment manufacturers and their suppliers are taking this into account,” he said. “This has an impact on the whole electronics supply chain as customers demand that their suppliers have good sustainability performance. For example, at ST, the number of customer inquiries related to sustainability increases by 50 percent each year.”
The benefits of sustainable and energy-efficient processes extend beyond the effect on climate change. Reducing the carbon footprint of ST’s fabs by 75 percent per wafer over a 20-year period has “greatly reduced the operational costs of manufacturing,” Brun said.
“We are convinced that caring for the environment makes good business sense and contributes to the overall efficiency of the company,” he added. “Sustainability gives us a strong competitive advantage. It also significantly reduces our long-term operating costs and all semiconductor risks, making us more attractive to investors.”
Brun’s comments might have hit upon the most salient reason for staying the course: As companies reap returns on their investments in clean technology for fabs and foundries, relaxing sustainability commitments simply doesn’t make business sense.