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InTechnology Podcast

Navigating Sustainability for a Lower Footprint (129)

In this episode of InTechnology, Camille and Tom get into corporate sustainability with Jen Huffstetler, Intel’s Corporate Product Sustainability Lead. The conversation covers the basics of sustainability at the corporate level, what Intel is doing to reach its sustainability goals, carbon reporting for companies, and changes in the industry regarding corporate sustainability.

To find the transcription of this podcast, scroll to the bottom of the page.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the guests and author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Intel Corporation.

Follow our hosts Tom Garrison @tommgarrison and Camille @morhardt.

Learn more about Intel Cybersecurity and the Intel Compute Life Cycle (CLA).

Lowering Carbon Footprint by 80%: Intel’s Corporate Sustainability Success

Corporate sustainability involves reducing an organization’s environmental footprint in its overall operations and products. By adopting eco-friendly practices in these two areas, Intel has lowered its carbon footprint by 80% in the last decade.

Some ways Intel achieved this remarkable success includes extensive use of renewable energy in manufacturing, setting up water restoration projects, and upcycling materials to reduce waste in landfills. When it comes to products, Intel pays attention to each feature as well as the product architecture, the platforms they go into, and the ability of the end-user to make choices that will lower their carbon footprint when running a workload.

Solving Corporate Sustainability Problems: Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond

Sustainability practices such as immersion cooling, where very hot sever boards are submerged in non-conducive fluids to cool them, are helping us save our planet. Today, many data centers have also started to reuse the heat generated during immersion as a source of heating for local communities in colder climes.

On the software side, one of the key factors in reducing carbon footprint is applying AI to codes to ensure they are efficient for your overall processes. Doing that allows you to spot inefficiencies, optimize power usage, and significantly lower your carbon footprint.

Beyond these efforts, what more can we do to achieve corporate sustainability when building products in the future? For Intel, the answer lies in building tools that help developers to understand energy usage and the carbon intensity of their workload. Intel also aims to drive renewable energy far and wide and find ways to manage its dynamic nature.

Jen Huffstetler, Intel’s Corporate Product Sustainability Lead

Jen Huffstetler corporate sustainability

Jen Huffstetler is the Chief Product Sustainability Officer at Intel. With nearly 27 years of experience in the field, Jen has led business transformations focused on optimizing the business and introducing new product categories. She is a Board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

View Jen Huffstetler’s LinkedIn page

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[00:00:28] Tom Garrison: Hi, and welcome to the InTechnology podcast. I’m your host, Tom Garrison, and with me as always is my co-host Camille. And today we have a special guest from Intel, Jennifer Huffstetler. She is the corporate product sustainability lead for Intel. She’s also a 26-year, almost 27-year Intel veteran, and we’re happy to have her. I’ve worked with her for a lot of years, so this is kind of a fun thing for me today to be able to have her on as a guest in the podcast. So Jen, welcome to the podcast.

[00:01:03] Jen Huffstetler: Thanks for having me, Tom and Camille.

[00:01:06] Tom Garrison: Yeah, so today’s topic, we wanted to talk about sustainability and we’ve had a couple of guests give a flavor for sustainability and what is it? But we wanted to have you on today to focus on what does it mean at a corporate level. What are the kinds of things that you’re looking at to try to achieve in your role at Intel and what other companies might be able to take away from that?

[00:01:32] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah, I look forward to the discussion. In my new role, we’re basically looking after where our customers have set goals, how to help them lower their carbon footprint as we’re on this mission to achieve sustainable compute. And that builds upon this incredibly strong and long legacy that we have in our own internal operations where for decades we’ve been looking after our environmental footprint in each of the locations where we operate.

[00:02:01] Tom Garrison: And maybe for some of the people that aren’t quite as familiar with that, can you give just some examples on what are some of the things that we’ve done from a sustainability standpoint that maybe people aren’t aware of?

[00:02:12] Jen Huffstetler: We have in the last decade alone lowered our carbon footprint by more than 80% than it would’ve been otherwise. Some of the ways that we achieve that is through our extensive use of renewable electricity across our manufacturing operations. We’ve achieved over 80% up until this point and are on track to continuing to hit our goal of a 100% renewable electricity. That translates directly into the products that we build in our factories. They’re built with renewable electricity, which actually lowers their embodied carbon footprint.

We’re also deeply engaged in water and waste. And so we have many projects that we put forth around the world to do water restoration in the local communities where our manufacturing sites are sitting such that we’ve achieved net positive water and we actually achieve that just a few weeks ago. So really seeing the precious resources that we have on the planet. And then the last piece is about waste and how much we’re sending to landfills. Really looking throughout our operations to ensure that we’re upcycling reusing chemicals and other materials throughout our factories such that we’ve now achieved 5% waste than it would’ve been without all of those activities as well.

[00:03:37] Camille Morhardt: So you’re kind of going through what the manufacturing or production of the products that exit the manufacturing facilities are consuming. What about the products themselves? Is that a focus also?

[00:03:53] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah, so I have a partner in our operations who helps to drive lowering our environmental impact in the product space, data center class processors, enterprise class, PC processors, right, all of those are built with this 80% renewable electricity. But now when you up-level it to look at the product features, the platforms that they go into, and even for the data center world, we want to look at the overall data center and how it’s architected. And then for an enterprise user or a consumer, where should they be running that workload? Can they make choices? Because we all know that it’s human choices that are driving whether something is a higher carbon footprint choice or a lower carbon footprint choice. So we have product features and capabilities today as well as roadmap over time.

[00:04:45] Tom Garrison: You work in the data center part of Intel’s business, but obviously as a company we’ve got product groups across client business, the one that I actually am part of, we have Internet of Things group and whatnot. So can you give us a flavor for some of the work that’s going on in all of the groups to achieve our sustainability goals?

[00:05:08] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah, well why don’t we start first with your area, Tom. Our teams have been really working for several years to consider what would it look like to have a sustainable PC. In fact, we’ve just recently launched our most sustainable Nook ever, which is really looking holistically at the system design. And so it not only includes features at a chip level to ensure that when under AC platform operation that it’s power optimized, right, so it’s only consuming the energy it needs when plugged in. But at the platform level, looking at the overall motherboard design, identifying whether there’s ways to reduce componentry so you can have fewer components, which means a smaller supply chain of impact as you’re sourcing those materials. And even looking at could you separate it into modular pieces so that you’re not burdening an entire PC platform with the lowest common denominator, right, that needs the most layers or carbon in a motherboard.

So the team did a lot of innovation already in a concept that was launched last year in December in partnership with Dell called the Luna Concept. And they’re now actively working on continuing to further that work, bio-based materials and beyond to achieve a new goal around lowering our reference platform. So everybody doesn’t buy a Nook or a Dell platform, but Intel enables the entire industry with our reference platforms, and they’ve taken on that goal to now lower the embodied carbon of those reference platforms by 2030.

[00:06:45] Camille Morhardt: Does Intel or other companies take into consideration the, I guess carbon emissions or for lack of a better term of the employee base and consider that something that they have a kind of purview over to try to help reduce, like for example, flying an airplanes or daily commutes or things like that that technology can alleviate if you were to make it a goal?

[00:07:10] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah. So when a company is looking at their carbon reporting and their corporate social responsibility report, they’re using another tool called CDP to roll up all the details. That’s all included. It’s everything in our embodied carbon footprint, what it takes to make a core processor. It includes everything from what it takes to run the factory, any emissions that come from our factory, and then the upstream supply chain as well as those flights that we take. Whether it’s working on those designs with our partners in Asia, visiting customers, all of that’s included for Intel.

Everybody doesn’t report equally, I think is something to know, that this is a fast evolving space and the standards are still being debated and they’re not as clear. And that’s the area where we’re partnering with others to seek to drive standards. So Camille, yes, there’s things every employee can do. It’s the miles we drive to and from work, whether using an EV, electric vehicle or taking a gasoline powered car. All of those things go into that report. But we’re really excited. We’re in the process of activating across Intel’s entire company, how do they align to support this vision that we have towards sustainable compute, that first major milestone that we’ve put out there.

[00:08:35] Tom Garrison: So Jen, you mentioned that not all companies do it the same way. And I’d like to try to explore that for just a second because I think most people understand for Intel, we manufacture our own chips. So we not only design our chips and whatnot, but we take it all the way through manufacturing and then we sell out to our customers. But there’s actually very, very few companies that do that. Most companies will design a chip and then they will give it to another company to manufacture that chip for them. And in most cases, that’s TSMC in Taiwan. And then the chip, whatever that is, then gets shipped eventually to their customers. And so when a reporting actually happens, I’m curious, how do you take that information, which in Intel’s case is kind of end to end because we’re in that unique position to report everything under this one roof, whereas other companies maybe only if they’re talking about sustainability, it’s only their little bit of it. It’s not the whole story. How do you see that evolving over time?

[00:09:48] Jen Huffstetler: How we’re working with industry is we’ve actually convened semi as the consortia where all of the semiconductor companies around the world convene and our lead technology development leader Ann Kelleher announced the green chemistry consortia where we’re really having a whole sustainability swim lane that has just been kicked off to start to address those. So we’re really proud to help get that kicked off and be one of the founding members of that. That’s where you’re going to see these standards start to get defined and evolve.

[00:10:24] Camille Morhardt: What do you think is the driving reason for companies trying to engage in sustainability practices and products? Is it to get more customers? Is it out of the goodness of their hearts? What’s driving it? It seems like such a great emphasis. In the last few years, there’s been kind of a turn.

[00:10:48] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah. Camille, it’s even been more recent than that that folks have started thinking about it, but in the last 18 months it just shot up. And I’d say the primary factor driving businesses, although the goodness of their heart, the care for the planet, leaving a legacy for their grandchildren or their children, those are all strong factors. The social demographic changes of the next generation expecting to work for a company that values and has a credible sustainability strategy is a new factor in even competing for talent. But the primary reason is really regulations. We know that the EU is far advanced in the US on this, but even our own SEC is now put forth their draft proposals on how they’re going to start driving standardization in the reporting and really holding companies accountable to what’s known as greenwashing, just calling things green because they are.

So on the bright side, this is an area where I think regulation is really going to be important and more important to see the pivot in the investment across the global economy. Some examples of what’s happened is data centers haven’t been able to be built if a local economy has, if you’re an island like Ireland and you bet part of your local economy on hosting data centers for Europe, when that segment of your economy takes up 17% of your total island’s power, you notice. And when it’s projected to grow to 30%, we are really looking for partnership from industry to demonstrate how they’re going to lower their power consumption, implement renewable energy to accommodate that growth. The same thing happens in the client space where some of our customers were unable to ship product because they’re not meeting these new regulatory requirements. So this is an area where the EU is ahead and it’s kind of leading the charge across the board. And then you get the boards of companies asking what the strategy is within each company. So multifaceted are the drivers.

[00:13:04] Tom Garrison: Well, so I mentioned before you and I have worked together a lot over the years and the roles that we’ve had have traditionally been product roles. And so I’m curious if you can share with folks as a product person where you’ve now kind of jumped into the sustainability role, some of the cool things that you’re seeing. And one for example, one that I’m aware of and it’s been around for a while but now seems to be really taken off, is immersion cooling in the data center where you literally submerge the server boards, which are super hot, you put it in a fluid and the fluid boils and then that’s how you cool them. But it’s non-conductive because you think, oh, you put it in water, of course you’d fry the board. But if you do it in non-conductive fluid, you can do this. So there’s some really cool technology things that are coming about.

[00:13:59] Jen Huffstetler: And what’s really exciting about the technology that you just mentioned, Tom, is that it not only enables higher compute density per watt, that’s really what everybody’s looking for. Am I able to get my work done with less power? You’re able to do that in immersion by running the processors potentially even hotter than they are today. But the amount of work that could get done in a data center is still greater. And so you get a greater compute efficiency per power through immersion.

[00:14:32] Tom Garrison: And even in that example what people don’t realize is it’s not just like the electricity. You think about pipe going into the CPUs and the server, that’s the energy into a data center, but you also have a bunch of energy out. So those electrons get transformed into heat and so then you have to spend a lot of energy in a data center to keep it cool. And things like immersion help you in that regard as well. It’s not a panacea, but it’s certainly that density problem and the cooling problem. You save a lot of money in a bunch of different ways. So yeah, it’s great for the planet, but it also is a way to solve these other problems around sustainability.

[00:15:13] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah. You can actually reduce the failure of fans in a server because you don’t need fans in a server because it’s immersed. So you don’t have to power the cooling system for the data center. So those pieces get removed. And then to your point on the heat that’s generated, we’re seeing a lot of data centers having showcases where they’re able to reuse that heat. In Barcelona, they have connected that heat, which is now consistent. Right. When you’ve got this cooling mechanism that is liquid based, you’re keeping it at constant temperature. Well that’s really a useful resource going back to our limited resources that we have. And we know over in Europe right now, the cost of heating is going up, right, but this is a consistent renewable source of heat and they’ve now piped it into the district heating. So it’s something that becomes a benefit to the community or the building.

You could think data centers can go inside a building, they don’t all need to be football field size, even smaller data centers, mini racks. You could still repurpose that heat and we see even smaller customers in Europe doing the same thing. So there’s a lot of benefits in that technology. I would say the other pieces that really matter, Tom, are the features inside the products that really help you to optimize the silicon that’s already there in your data center. So we look at a product like Xeon and there’s been innovations over decades to put accelerator engines inside the Xeon to accelerate the workload and offload the main core to do the rest of the work. They’re really able to see up to a four X improvement on their performance per watt by utilizing those accelerators inside the silicon. But to me that really is the number one thing that’s going to be able to help the planet.

Today, software’s really inefficient. We know that coder’s role is to deliver their product time or service time to market, and they inherently have become less and less efficient because they didn’t need to over the last decades while more and more compute was delivered. In the beginning, assembly code was very efficient because there wasn’t a lot of compute resources. So you really had to be efficient with your code. So that’s some of the work you’re going to see us driving around green software, really looking at your software efficiency, the energy use of your software, utilizing AI to scan your environment.

And we’ve got a couple of examples with customers where they’re able to lower their power and their energy usage, which directly translates to carbon lowering as well by 20% in some cases, 60% across a range of use cases, whether it’s logistics or telecommunication networks and beyond. And so when you really start to think of one of the key factors overall in lowering footprint, applying AI to your code to make sure it’s efficient to your overall processes in whatever business you are in and you’re going to find efficiencies. You’re going to be able to optimize the power within the system that you have by utilizing the telemetry that we have on the platform as well as those accelerators that are inside the product.

[00:18:43] Camille Morhardt: Has that arrived already? Because when you’re talking about 17% of an island’s energy consumption, if you can drop that by even just a little bit, that’s obviously a big deal. Is it already happening? Has it been happening for a long time or is this kind of brand new, this ability to, you’re not even just taking advantage of the silicon through the software, but also looking at overarching workloads and kind of optimizing even what hours you’re running them and things like that.

[00:19:13] Jen Huffstetler: Yeah, that’s right. I would say it’s newer that folks are really looking at how to deliver a carbon impact to their CEO, to their board. Right. That’s why I mentioned the regulators and then it comes through the board. Everybody is looking for ways that they’re lowering their carbon footprint. So I think that focus is a little newer versus just getting the work done. We’re also starting to see customers relax, what previously were pretty hard SLAs, so their service level agreement. And when they’re looking at the trade off, like do I need the highest precision AI training or can it be a little bit lower and I get 80 or 90% of the way, that’s probably good enough given the power trade off. And so you’re going to start to see more customers make choices. It goes back to that human choice of is it really worth the extra energy for this particular workload?

The research in academia, the examples through the customers are just starting to help demonstrate that direction that we really need to get to as a computing industry. I think the green software, the tools aren’t yet there for the average developer to know. I mentioned the standards aren’t that great. So when the average developer sees their bill, if you will, their energy bill, their carbon footprint bill, it’s hard to know what’s inside it because it’s a black box and you don’t know what you’re being reported. But that’s one of the missions that we’re on, is to try to build tools for developers to understand the energy usage and the carbon intensity of that by understanding where in the world they’re operating. Some locations have far fewer renewable electricity available and your carbon intensity is going to be higher for the same workload. So that part’s very new.

It’ll take several years. But I’ll just mention one of the other product pieces that Intel’s really invested in is driving renewable electricity everywhere that we can. And so we have through our IOT team that’s focused on energy, the energy vertical, they’ve partnered across the ecosystem to pull together a consortia of a full solution or renewables, the hardware deployment, the software deployment, all the way down a whole reference architecture to enhance the substations in the grid because renewable electricity is inherently unreliable and it’s unpredictable and that’s not what the current grids were built for. So you need a way to be able to handle that variable load line that’s coming in and as you onboard renewables, then it doesn’t have detrimental consequences to your overall grid and your commitments to the rest of the customers. So we’re looking across the board from the PC client as we talked about, the data center out to that network and the energy to really bring the renewables everywhere that we can.

[00:22:23] Tom Garrison: Well, Jen, it feels like we could keep talking about this for a long time. I do want to thank you for coming in to the podcast and sharing the work that Intel’s doing and some of the exciting things they’re coming across the industry. So thank you.

[00:22:37] Jen Huffstetler: Very happy to have the opportunity to share it here and thank you, to the listeners for your time. Appreciate it.

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