Apple will in future be able to assess the Apple Silicon environmental impact at an early stage in chip design, thanks to taking a lead role in a new research initiative.

The program is likely to help with Apple’s stated environmental goal of becoming 100% carbon neutral by 2030.

A little-known fact is that the carbon footprint of manufacturing a chip is greater than the footprint of all the energy it will consume during its entire lifetime of use, as a Cornell University study found.

Broadly, carbon emissions have two sources: operational energy consumption, and hardware manufacturing and infrastructure. Although carbon emissions from the former are decreasing thanks to algorithmic, software, and hardware innovations that boost performance and power efficiency, the overall carbon footprint of computer systems continues to grow. This work quantifies the carbon output of computer systems to show that most emissions related to modern mobile and data-center equipment come from hardware manufacturing and infrastructure. We therefore outline future directions for minimizing the environmental impact of computing systems.

The R&D organization Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (Imec) has created a research program specifically designed to help companies understand the environmental impact of decisions taken at a very early stage in the chip design process.

Apple Inc. has joined imec’s brand-new Sustainable Semiconductor Technologies and Systems (SSTS) research program.

The SSTS program is the first initiative rallying stakeholders from across the IC value chain to anticipate the environmental impact of choices made at chip technology’s definition phase.

Using concrete and reliable models, and detailed (carbon) footprint analyses, the program will help the IC-making industry cut back on its ecological footprint – as part of the global fight against climate change, resources depletion and pollution.

Imec believes that Apple’s support will create a snowball effect, as other chip designers and fabricators back the initiative, reports VentureBeat.

Companies realize they can only become carbon neutral if their whole supply chain follows suit. So, that is the snowball effect we want to create — together with Apple — today. [We] would like to call upon the whole semiconductor value chain not to stand at the side, but to act as one and to join forces with us to cut back the entire semiconductor industry’s ecological footprint.

It’s not the only initiative Apple has joined this week: it is also working with other tech giants to boost workplace diversity.

Photo: Jason Leung/Unsplash

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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