From Human to Planet: Why Innovation is Key to a Sustainable Future

Mary Jacques, Director ESG and Principle Engineer on Lenovo’s pioneering efforts to create technology that is more sustainable, using innovation to light the way to a smarter, more sustainable future.

From gleaming arrays of solar panels on factory roofs to innovative manufacturing processes, being a leader in sustainability requires ground-breaking technology and the courage to do things differently. Around the world, Lenovo is harnessing new ideas in everything from biofuels to energy-efficient liquid cooling systems for data centres, and paving the way for a future of more sustainable manufacturing.

A global conversation

In today’s economy, no company works in isolation, and efforts to create new, low-carbon ways of working make a bigger impact through collaboration. Reducing carbon emissions takes difficult conversations with suppliers and partners. Lenovo has reached across different sectors to support the use of sustainable aviation fuels with DB Schenker, and to encourage partners to switch to electrified fleets. Lenovo is also working with its supply chain to use sustainable biofuels in our ocean shipping with Maersk. Every business has a role to play on the journey to a more sustainable future.

Sustainability cannot be viewed as the enemy of business performance. In fact, Lenovo’s technology innovations are already empowering customers to save money while also lowering emissions. Traditional air-cooled data centres require an enormous amount of energy, and our own research suggests that 10% of power is used solely to operate fans to cool the servers, instead of being used to move, store or compute data. It’s one of the reasons we’ve gone onto develop our own Neptune water-cooling system, which allows data centres to operate 40% more efficiently.

Lenovo understands that data-informed decisions are critical for making more sustainable decisions. Business leaders need to clearly understand the environmental and financial impact of their decisions, and the long- and short-term trade-offs for both. Lenovo has been measuring its emissions since forming its first emissions reduction goals in 2009/10, which it met and exceeded in 2020.

Raising standards

In 2020, Lenovo took a new approach to emissions reduction by submitting its next generation of emissions reduction targets to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) for validation. Lenovo supports a science-based approach to mitigating the impacts of climate change and is SBTi to ensure credibility in their work to mitigate climate change. SBTi created the first ever science-based Net-Zero Standard for emissions reduction, to establish meaningful goals to measure the journey towards net-zero.

Aligning to SBTi’s science-based approach helps with the goals to keep global warming to 1.5C – a key threshold that – if crossed- will expose the world to the worst effects of climate change. The first step for a company to establish a net-zero target is to have short-term targets focusing on 2030 that are the first step toward reaching net-zero by 2050. Lenovo’s 2030 targets include reducing scope 1 and 2 emissions (associated with our own operations) by 50% and reducing emissions intensity in key areas of the value chain (products, suppliers and transportation) by 25%. Lenovo’s innovation is critical to reaching its targets, and the company has set 2030 goals to increase energy efficiency for notebooks and smartphones by 30% and desktops and servers by 50%.

At one ground-breaking factory under construction in Tianjin in China, Lenovo is sowing the seeds of low carbon manufacturing, with thousands of square metres of solar panels on site, carbon emission tracking across the whole production process and solar-powered streetlights and bins on site. Everything is measured (and the site is built to be pleasant for workers as well), with a goal to create a new standard for manufacturing, shaping the future of technology around the world.

Sustainable innovation & the Circular Economy

As a global technology company, Lenovo has an opportunity to use its scale to make a positive impact. With four of its devices purchased every second, the design decisions that Lenovo makes today can make a significant difference for our customers and the environment – having impact not just in that individual product, but in future generations of products, and inspiring other companies to ‘raise their game’ when it comes to sustainability.

In 2021, Lenovo recycled more than 29,000 metric tons of products through its product take back process. Lenovo has processes in place to ensure these products are recycled responsibly through approved partners.  Some of these materials may be recovered for use in new electronic products. Lenovo is supporting the development of the market for closed- loop post-consumer recycled content. We use material sourced from the used IT and electronics in 248 products, and we’re looking to grow this number by 2025.

More than 50 million tons of electronic waste is produced every year, according to the United Nations, enough to cover Manhattan in discarded circuitry. Battling against this requires new ways to reuse products as part of the ‘circular economy’ and develop new recycled materials that meet the high-quality standards required for consumer electronics. By 2025, Lenovo aims to have 100% of its PC products contain recycled content, and to extend plastic-free packaging to more products. In the world of data centres, there is huge potential to reduce waste and recover value. Lenovo’s Asset Recovery Service helps to reduce the environmental impact of server technology, and also helps customers recover value from decommissioned equipment.

As Lenovo innovates for sustainability, it is keen to share the fruits of its research to help create a more sustainable future for the industry. In 2017 Lenovo pioneered a Low Temperature Solder process which reduces energy consumption and has saved an estimated 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide since it was invented.

In the wake of the development of the new soldering processes, Lenovo made the technology available to any other company who wanted to adopt it in their manufacturing processes.

Investing for a Smarter Future

Lenovo values the opinions of the experts in the investor and NGO community and supports the development of new standards for environmental impact measurement and disclosure.  Lenovo is paving the way for future environmental improvements with a $625 million green bond offering to help fund sustainable building initiatives.

When it comes to shaping our low-carbon future, technology companies have an opportunity to be at the forefront of the global discussion. Sustainable innovation in technology will help to drive the world’s journey to net-zero.

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