In his CES 2016 keynote, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich cast a spotlight on Intel's goals beyond technology, particularly the achievement of attaining conflict-free status in 2016. In an email exchange, Gary Niekerk, acting director, Intel's Office of Corporate Responsibility, answered my questions about this particular milestone, including the challenges it faced and its commitment to serving as a model for the industry.
EBN: Is Intel, in fact, the first company to achieve the goal of being completely free of conflict materials?
Niekerk: We may be the first company, but that's really hard to know given the number of companies and products on the planet. I think it's safe to say we are the first semiconductor company to announce that our products are conflict free.
EBN: When did Intel set the goal to be completely free of conflict minerals by 2016?
Niekerk: Our initial goal was to be conflict-free in 2013 for the microprocessors we manufacturer. After we achieved that goal, our CEO wanted an even more aggressive goal that included the rest of our products. The discussion for the 2016 goal would have happened in late 2014 or early 2015.
EBN: Why did you choose to publicize the deadline for 2016 to be completely conflict-free when there were still major challenges to overcome?
Niekerk: We wanted to let the world know that we are setting challenging goals and hopefully other companies will follow by setting their own goals. We are demonstrating that you don't have to be perfect, but you can still take action and make an impact. Remember at one time no one believed that a human could run a 4 minute mile; after the first person achieved that seemingly impossible goal, many other runners broke that barrier.
EBN: Was Intel under particular pressure for this kind of accountability?
Niekerk: Once we learned of this issue, the effort was very much internally driven. We set aggressive goals which drive us to achieve seemingly impossible results; it's how we operate as a business on the cutting edge of technology.
EBN: On the way to achieving that goal, did certain minerals prove more challenging than others?
Niekerk: Tantalum was the least difficult and we already had a deeper understanding of our supply chain for that metal. Gold is the most difficult because of its high value which makes it more prone to smuggling.
EBN: How did you track sources throughout the supply chain, particularly when certain materials can be recycled?
Niekerk: We work to account for recycling; the smelter audit protocols cover recycling of metals. There are still a number of smelters that have not successfully completed the conflict free smelter program, but we are making progress. You can see the list of smelters here: Compliant Smelter & Refiner Lists
EBN: What was the most challenging part of reaching this goal?
Niekerk: The supply chain is not static; we are continually adding new suppliers, and our suppliers are adding new suppliers, so it takes ongoing diligence to maintain your systems.
EBN: Does Intel share its strategies and experiences for the edification of other companies?
Niekerk: Our goal has always been to make this “open-source” and share broadly across the industry. All of the materials (audit protocols, reporting templates, etc.,) that we helped develop with our industry partners are publically available at http://www.conflictfreesourcing.org/; additionally we have a lot of information on our own conflict-free web site. Many of our Intel employees have spoken at webinars, seminars and conferences all over the world educating people about this issue and what companies can do.
Let us know how your organization is doing in eradicating conflict mineral use in the comments section below.