Intel’s operations in the United States, Costa Rica and India are officially net positive on water use. In those countries, Intel restores and returns more freshwater than it takes in.
That may sound like creative accounting or a magic trick but dig deeper and you’ll find Intel’s long-running commitment to conserve water and minimize its impact on the planet – one that goes beyond the bounds of Intel’s campuses and is motivated by more than just saving money on the water bill.
Todd Brady, Intel chief sustainability officer and vice president of Global Public Affairs, explains: “More than 10 years ago, we began to explore how we could better understand and reduce our water footprint. Five years ago, we set a public goal to restore 100% of our consumption and became the first tech company to set a companywide water restoration goal. Two years ago, we announced our goal to achieve net positive water by 2030, driven by our commitment to reduce our overall impact on our local watersheds and support the water resources that serve our communities.
“It’s exciting to share that we’ve reached net positive water in three countries, through strong partnerships with environmental non-profits and local governments, and through our water stewardship investments. We are not stopping here – now we are focused on reaching net positive water in the remaining locations where we operate.”
Last year, Intel used 16 billion gallons of freshwater, reclaimed water and desalinated water. Internal water management practices resulted in more than 13 billion gallons of water flowing out of Intel, back to surrounding communities. Adding in restoration projects, Intel is edging toward its global goal of returning and restoring more water than it uses to the community and the environment. And the company’s new sites are being built to Intel’s commitment to reach net positive water globally by 2030.
A lot goes into making Intel’s factories run, but water is arguably one of the most important ingredients. It’s used in the manufacturing process, including in manufacturing tools that produce leading technology, in data centres and in evaporative cooling towers.
Intel uses freshwater as well as reclaimed water purchased from utilities, but it taps into other sources, too. In Israel, desalination removes salt from seawater to make it usable. Other Intel facilities may draw water from on-site wells and collect rainwater to top off the supply that comes from the city. Intel’s CSR report includes a balance sheet of where the water for each site comes from and where it goes after.
Balancing the equation of water in and water out means working hard to conserve and reuse water where possible. A portion of the water Intel buys is lost to irrigation and evaporation, but there are huge water-saving efforts that go on inside Intel to make sure it’s as water-conscious as possible.
Making the Most of What Intel Has
Internal conservation efforts allowed Intel to save 9.3 billion gallons of water last year – an increase of 114% over the past two years. Improvements and efficiencies in manufacturing processes mean Intel can do more with less, and on-site treatment plants allow the company to maximize its water reuse and reduce use of freshwater resources.
During 2021, Intel made significant progress in the operation of its on-site water reclamation facilities. These innovative plants allow Intel to treat and reuse water within operations in systems like cooling towers and scrubbers, resulting in a substantial increase in water conservation that reduces the use of freshwater sources.
Beyond Intel: Beer, Wildlife and Rivers Benefit
How will Intel get to global net positive water, especially if there’s water lost to evaporation and other things the company can’t do anything about?
Intel’s restoration efforts make up the gap and ensure Intel’s impact on the planet goes further than just “canceling out” water use in factories. Intel focuses its water restoration efforts on the watersheds impacted by its sites. For Arizona, Intel-funded water projects restored 890 million gallons to the watershed in 2021. The projects vary, from traditional conservation to a focus on shifting local economies in ways that will have a long-term impact.
In Arizona, the Verde River is home to migratory birds, nesting bald eagles, river otters and fish. The river is also a major source of water for Phoenix and is critical to the area’s agricultural economy. In the hot summer months, withdrawals from the Verde River increase to keep crops hydrated and healthy.
An Intel-funded project incentivized farmers to switch out crops that require heavy irrigation in the summer months for barley, which is harvested earlier in the year and requires less water. As part of the project, an investment in a local malt house lowered the transaction costs involved in malting barley, which can then be sold to local breweries that previously had to use out-of-state suppliers.
In Bengaluru, India, once known as the “City of Lakes,” significant urban development has contributed to extreme water stress and groundwater depletion. To support Bengaluru’s water resources, Intel has funded two water restoration projects that, once fully implemented, will restore more than 100 million gallons each year between Dyavasandra Lake and Lake Nanjapura.
Fawn Bergen, corporate sustainability manager, highlights the knock-on effects of Intel’s conservation work as additional positives, though it’s not measurable. “Intel was one of the first tech companies to make a public commitment around water restoration, but we’re not alone in this,” she says. “In the years since we announced our water commitment, we’ve had conversations with other companies who have come to us for help or advice with setting their own water stewardship goals. Although water challenges are local, the partnerships, collective actions and investments are global.”
New Sites Will Incorporate Water Wisdom
Since 2021, Intel has announced ambitious plans to ramp up production with new facilities in Arizona, Ohio and Europe. Work toward net positive water will build on what the company has learned over the past 20 years to minimize the impact of new facilities on the surrounding environment.
“I grew up in the Pacific Northwest – a region known for its considerable rainfall. People often think this means that there is little to no water risk,” Bergen says. “But water stress, which is based on both supply and demand, exists at varying levels around the world – in dry or wet climates. That’s why it is important to consider your water footprint – and work toward solutions – in the context of the watershed.”
Though new sites will increase its water footprint, Intel’s goal to achieve net positive water globally by 2030 has not changed. It will need to conserve 60 billion gallons of water and restore more than 100% of its global freshwater consumption. How close is the company to hitting that 100% now?
As of 2021, Intel is at 99%.