As droughts, deep freezes, sprawling wildfires and other natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, they offer a stark warning: Environmental sustainability is at a tipping point. With climate change gathering pace, the semiconductor industry – recognizing its own fabs can do much more to reduce their carbon footprint – is in a position to help turn the tide on rising temperatures worldwide and more chip companies are launching sustainability initiatives to contribute to the cause.
Stressing the need for a stronger concerted effort by the semiconductor industry, SEMI president and CEO Ajit Manocha, speaking at the recent Sustainable Semi Venture Forum, called on the chip industry to intensify its work to curb greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption of semiconductor fabs. He acknowledged that more companies across the semiconductor supply chain are taking action by adding Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives as key measures of corporate performance. Investors around the world are following suit, pouring more than $40 trillion of funding into ESG initiatives.
Governments are enacting new, more stringent environmental regulations, Manocha said in highlighting other factors contributing to the urgent push for sustainability. An emerging generation of socially conscious talent is looking to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a differentiator in their choice of employers – key in a semiconductor industry that is working to overcome a perennial shortage of the skilled workers vital to its continuing innovation and growth. And in their own contribution to sustainability, technology-savvy consumers are increasingly buying energy-efficient, or green, products, including the vast number of electronics powered by semiconductors.
To help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the chip industry, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company teamed with SEMI and its members to identify five key levers for the industry to shrink its carbon footprint.
- Reduction of operations energy consumption
- Optimization of energy supply – purchases of renewable energy and decarbonization of power plants via natural gas
- Supplier decarbonization
- Reduction of process greenhouse gas emissions – increased abatement, reducing gas usage and leakage
- Reduction of downstream energy consumption – improving the energy efficiency of electronic products
The rising pressure to decarbonize is compelling companies across the semiconductor supply chain to seek out new sustainability solutions across the five levers, Manocha said. Motivated partly by societal forces, large tech companies are setting ambitious goals to decarbonize and in turn pressing chipmakers to decarbonize production. Semiconductor manufacturers are responding to these growing demands and pressure from their own stakeholders by increasingly committing to sustainability targets including the abatement of emissions. This leads the chip companies to turn to industrial solutions providers to help mitigate emissions through the levers, which ultimately creates opportunities for semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers and startups to innovate and contribute solutions.
Elite high-tech companies have set ambitious renewable energy goals for 2030 and beyond.
The semiconductor industry is taking action on decarbonization, renewable energy and water conservation.
To encourage similar commitments across the semiconductor industry and facilitate industry standards on sustainability, SEMI worked with member companies to form the Sustainability Advisory Council, a group that includes some of the world’s largest chip companies. Manocha urged all SEMI members to participate in SEMI sustainability initiatives since the entire supply chain’s involvement is key to driving meaningful gains. The council’s initial focus includes:
- Guiding the industry on sustainability requirements and reporting
- Helping to set shared sustainability goals across the industry
- Establishing an industry baseline for developing a sustainability roadmap
Companies across the global semiconductor supply chain are participating in the SEMI Sustainability Advisory Council.
Call to Startups: Help Drive Eco-Friendly Chip Manufacturing Innovations
With startups natural sources of innovation, SEMI sees the young companies as critical players in the semiconductor industry’s push to develop technologies that will help reduce its environmental footprint. During the Sustainable Semi Venture Forum, SEMI members Micron, Intel Capital, Applied Ventures, Lam Research, M Ventures, ASML, KLA, Samsung and TEL launched an initiative to recruit startups to help the industry mint eco-friendly innovations for semiconductor manufacturing. The group has its sights set on three areas:
- Energy efficiency at tool, manufacturing process, and supply chain levels
- Water sustainability technologies to enable increased manufacturing process efficiencies, reclamation, reuse and restoration in industrial treatment centers
- Material usage and sustainability, including alternative chemistries for wafer processing, materials recycling and waste stream abatement
The initiative will kick off with the Startups for Semiconductor Sustainability Pitch Event, an opportunity for startup companies to present their ideas for innovations semiconductor manufacturers can deploy to help conserve water and energy. Startups are encouraged to apply on the event web page. The proposal submission deadline is November 1, 2021, and finalists will be announced at SEMICON West 2021, Dec. 7-9 in San Francisco.
Startups selected in the initial phase based on their proposals will be paired with industry experts for coaching on productization options and integration considerations in the semiconductor industry. Finalists will pitch their innovations to some of the world’s leading semiconductor companies and cleantech investors.
What Participating SEMI Members Have to Say
James Amano is senior director of International Standards and EHS at SEMI.