The EY organization played a prominent role as part of the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council in an effort to help businesses align their strategic goals with those of the broader society. Those efforts bore fruit in 2021, when more than 60 companies and global business leaders committed to disclose a set of universal ESG metrics. More companies than ever now publish sustainability reports; semiconductor companies that set and meet aggressive sustainability targets position themselves to seize competitive advantage not only in the consumer marketplace, but also in the battle for the new generation of talent.3
Optimizing sourcing for materials
Vulnerabilities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of shortening the supply chain and improving its resilience, but the environmental case for doing so – compressing an organization’s overall carbon footprint – already existed. That means creating easier access to core materials. An example would be to explore building silicon production capability and developing more foundries near fabrication plants.
Materials and suppliers also should be assessed with greater scrutiny. Conflict minerals and other materials of questionable sourcing should be eliminated from the supply chain, and suppliers should be integrated into sustainability efforts and evaluated based on their performance against environmental goals.
Leading semiconductor companies have employed a variety of tools designed to minimize waste generated from their activities. These efforts include community-level initiatives, such as spearheading environmental awareness campaigns in the communities in which they operate and maximizing recycling opportunities on their premises. But they also include the type of larger-scale efforts that will be increasingly important, such as setting aggressive waste-reduction targets through circular economy strategies, as well as reducing test wafer use and innovating to find ways to reuse consumables and spare parts.
Mid term: Water
Keeping fabrication plants from draining valuable water supplies
Location decisions for semiconductor fabrication facilities, of course, have significant ramifications for the companies and the communities they choose. As companies weigh options for building new capacity, they would do well to avoid arid or drought-prone regions where their operations could risk further straining an already precarious water supply. Regardless of location, water management is a persistent challenge. Companies building new plants will need to focus on water independence as they look to reclaim the resource, categorize its quality and raise it to ultrapure levels as needed. By classifying the purity of treated water, companies can assign priority to its uses – with the highest quality to be purified for use in manufacturing and the next-highest quality to be treated and used for non-production purposes.4 Companies also can be proactive in incentivizing equipment suppliers to reduce water usage in their designs.