Tech companies are perpetually on the cutting edge of progress, advancing new technologies meant to make the world a better place – but they're not always known for doing it sustainably. However, IBM and the environment go hand in hand, with the famed corporation leading the way on green tech issues like the environmental friendliness of its source materials.
Recipient of a range of environmental awards including the prestigious Coffey International Award for its innovative approach to sustainability issues in business, IBM has also earned top honors among electronics manufacturers on the climate friendliness scorecard from Climate Counts.
Each year, IBM releases an annual report that outlines its sustainability goals and actions. The report, upon which much of this article is based, makes it easy for the public to track IBM's progress on issues like electronic waste disposal, chemical management, wildlife protection, and even how much it spends on green initiatives.
Sustainable Global Supply Chain
Starting this year, all of IBM's suppliers will be asked to establish environmental goals and measure performance in energy conservation, greenhouse gas emissions and waste management and to publicly disclose the results. In this far-reaching program – the first of its kind among tech companies – IBM is using its considerable influence to ensure that chemicals are properly managed and that products are designed with long life in mind.
It's just the latest of a long line of environmental initiatives coming out of IBM in recent years, but it has the potential to create a wave of change among a diverse array of suppliers. IBM hopes the changes will be complete by 2011, and those that don't comply may lose the company's business.
Environmental Policies and Reporting
All of IBM's environmental efforts stem from its comprehensive Environmental Affairs Policy, which was formalized in its earliest form in 1967. The policy includes a long list of directives including conserving natural resources, using energy responsibly, using development and manufacturing processes that don't cause harm to the environment and creating products that can be reused, recycled or disposed of safely.
IBM also set out to create products that actually help solve environmental problems around the world, notably in its collaboration with Tokyo's Kogyo Co., Ltd. in the development of solar power products. Seeking to develop cheaper, more efficient and thinner solar cells, IBM hopes to bring forth the next generation of this clean energy technology so it's more accessible to all.
Climate Protection, Pollution Prevention & Resource Conservation
IBM says climate change is a serious concern that requires a joint effort between the public and private sectors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. IBM has chosen to concentrate many of its climate change efforts in energy conservation, since the carbon dioxide emissions released by energy companies that power IBM's facilities represent the tech giant's biggest impact on the climate.
Since 1990, IBM has saved 4.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity consumption, avoided almost 3.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and saved over $343 million through energy conservation. IBM also began procuring renewable energy in 2008, and has exceeded its goal of reducing perfluorocompounds (PFCs) from semiconductor manufacturing operations over 1995 levels.
Hazardous waste represents a huge challenge to the tech industry, but IBM has been seeking to eliminate or reduce use and disposal of toxic substances since 1971. Product redesigns and careful oversight of hazardous waste disposal and recycling has helped IBM reduce its output by 10.9 percent in 2008.
In 2000, IBM identified the source of its greatest water consumption, in its microelectronics manufacturing operations, and established a water savings goal of 2 percent of total annual water usage within these operations. Within 5 years, IBM exceeded that goal, reaching 4.6 percent, and that figure was up to 5.5 percent by 2008.
IBM also has a wide range of waste management, recycling and material conservation programs. When products reach the end of their usage, IBM takes responsibility. In 2008, the company processed 42,302 metric tons of end-of-life product and product waste, reusing or recycling 96.9 percent and sending only 0.6 percent to landfills or incineration facilities.
Learn more about IBM and the environment by visiting the environmental section on its website.