As the COVID-19 crisis set in this spring, it was unsurprising when organizations put sustainability programs on the backburner. It takes money and time to respond thoughtfully to a global pandemic, and those are finite resources. It’s a challenge to react responsibly without taking our eye — and our resources — off our long game. At Micron, we aim to make a dramatic difference to our planet, our communities and our business by aligning our business with social and environmental needs.
Our vision as a company is to transform how the world uses information to enrich life for all. To do that, we need to make responsible products that don’t harm the world. Our values — people, innovation, collaboration, customer focus and tenacity — demand it. They are at the core of every goal and initiative we outline in our 2020 sustainability report. And they pushed us forward on multiple fronts to ensure the health and well-being of our people, our customers and our business during COVID-19.
On one of those fronts, our global teams came together to define environmental goals that, frankly, we’re not 100% sure how we’ll reach.
But we believe that’s a good thing.
Not knowing, yet, how we will get there means we have to get innovative. And every year that we push to become more innovative — to advance new ideas, original and creative in thinking — we are moving beyond incremental improvements. Just as in product development, big change is how you see big gains. As my colleague — and Micron’s innovation leader — Naga Chandrasekaran has said throughout this process, “You need a mindset change to shift the curve.”
Where the Environment Affects Our Business
And critical issues — climate change, water risks, waste and chemical management — are not going away during or after the pandemic. So, while we have done very well managing these issues in the past, we are working to change our mindset and shift the curve. And we are setting long-term trajectories on energy, emissions, waste and water — and setting the stage for innovations that drive significant change. The future of our business depends on it.
Take facilities, for example. We have facilities in constrained environments that will suffer as climate change progresses. As we have more typhoons and wildfires, more of our locations are at risk from physical damage. And as society shifts in response, we face changing regulations like renewable energy standards and carbon taxes that affect our facility energy use and process emissions. In the strictest business sense, it's important to Micron to address these risks because they directly affect our facilities’ ability to manufacture products that meet our customers’ expectations.
If we have a renewable energy goal, if we have an emissions reduction goal, we can get out in front of regulatory pressure, and we can help address the problems that create the typhoons and limited water availability and other physical constraints.
Here are a few places where we are starting to make headway:
- Direct emissions: Increasing efficiency, recycling and abatement of greenhouse gases used in our processes
- Renewable energy: Increasing the energy efficiency of our manufacturing and facility systems while pursuing a renewable energy procurement strategy
- Water: Reusing and recycling water within our facilities and helping other water users restore water to critical habitats
- Waste: Increasing the efficiency of our materials use and finding new outlets for recovery and recycling
Of course, this is all just a narrow slice of how the environment and our business interact. Sustainability is also about lowering the cost of technology to create greater access for marginalized communities, enabling migrant workers to work safely on Micron construction sites, and supporting technological advances that improve the safety and efficiency of connected cars, among many other things.
Our Roads to Get There
Of course, when you’re trying to improve sustainability practices in operations around the world, you’re dependent on what the world is doing. The renewable energy policy environment in Asia, for example, is different and more expensive than in the U.S. So how do we meet a long-term goal when we don't know what renewable energy prices, availability or quality will look like in five years?
That's where we must get innovative — change our mindset to work in ways that are very different from the past. And we are doing just that. Typically, we collaborate with startups for innovation in our core product technology. Now, we are exploring how to bring them in on our operations and process technology. Startups, governments and academia are central to helping us achieve our long-term sustainability goals.
We are also encouraging more people to think more actively about sustainability, so it’s never “somebody else's job.” Environmental impact simply can’t be somebody else's job, especially if we’re developing key processes like how to better use ultrapure water. We all need to be mindful of how we're using these processes and what their environmental impact is.
This is a new challenge for some of our people, so Micron’s global teams meet every two weeks to talk through our processes. We have a heat transfer fluid team, a fluorinated gases team, an energy efficiency team, a renewables team. We know it’s easy for us to say things like “100% renewable energy” or to work for an emissions pathway “aligned with global agreements on climate change.” But to set those far-reaching goals without a line of sight to get there? That’s really, really hard for buildings full of engineers.
But this is how big innovation starts — with big problems we strive to solve with ideas we haven’t developed yet. Our teams are innovating, not just in our products but also in our manufacturing, to find new ways to make our products with fewer greenhouse gases, less energy, less water, fewer chemicals, and more renewable energy.