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Sustainability & Social Responsibility

Laying a (Green) Foundation


Regan S. Rhodes

November/December 2012, eSide Supply Management Vol. 5, No. 6

Tenets and takeaways from Intel's Blue Guide to Being Green can help any company take sustainability value ideas from concept to results.

In 2010, Intel issued its Blue Guide to Being Green — with "Blue" referring to Intel's signature shade. This resource includes more than 70 guidelines to help employees intelligently plan greener events specifically from an ecological perspective.

The guide was created by Intel's Corporate Strategic Procurement in partnership with the Organization and Event Marketing Group. It has helped Intel reach its current corporate sustainability targets through the delivery of carbon, water, energy and waste reductions across the event-marketing supply chain.

"Sustainability and innovation are two key imperatives that we're driving as an organization," says Frank Sanders, director of Intel's Corporate Strategic Procurement Organization. "The Blue Guide exhibits both."

The financial benefits of these efforts have also helped procurement teams deliver smarter and sustainable business value for the event operations.

A good outcome for Intel — but how can your own company move its sustainability value ideas from concept to actual results?

Strategies for Implementation

Several takeaways in the Intel guide can be implemented by any organization to turn sustainability ideas into reality.

See an opportunity. Procurement professionals are becoming increasingly environmentally and socially conscious. Why? Because drawing sustainability value from supply chains has proven benefits.

According to both KPMG's Corporate Sustainability Study and McKinsey's Global Business of Sustainability Report, an increasing number of executives believe that sustainability increases profitability, makes systems more efficient, gains customers and reduces risk.

In 2008, Intel started taking steps to reduce the environmental footprint of one of its major events: the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), a 5,500-person event held annually in San Francisco. A team of planners and suppliers started with low-hanging fruit: recycling, reducing paper, food waste and eliminating bottled water. The immediate benefit was the diversion of 30,000 pounds of material from landfills, a water-use reduction of 3,700 gallons and 47 trees saved by slashing paper use.

These gains led to bigger questions: What if these practices could be duplicated across multiple Intel events? Could these efforts deepen throughout Intel's event supply chain — includes agencies, venues, hotels, food service and transportation? An opportunity was born.

Within four years, what began as an isolated idea at one event has grown to become a coordinated and intentional green event crusade that engages diverse business units in sourcing and planning for smarter events.

Harness corporate commitment. Kick-starting the Blue Guide was made easier due to the company's pre-existing commitment to environmental and social responsibility. This foundation included a corporate sustainability policy, goals and preferred indicators to track.

For procurement departments that are just starting their sustainability journey, these kinds of corporate commitments can provide solid support for a business case. However, demonstrating business value — such as cost savings, process efficiencies and customer satisfaction through case studies — might help increase willingness from executives to develop sustainable procurement programs.

Understand the business unit. The prescription for sustainable procurement can vary by business unit. For example, the issues, impact and processes involved in manufacturing are very different than in event marketing. Prior to creation of the Blue Guide, our organization looked at case studies to understand the kinds of systems that are in play at corporate events.

One of the most innovative solutions we've devised involves the use of trade show assets. As a technology company, Intel commissions displays for demonstrating products at events, such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Rather than design new properties for each show, Intel has established a long-term supplier partnership to repurpose properties such as display booths and demonstration setups. The program has reduced our organization's disposal costs by 95 percent since 2003 and lengthened the life span of materials by 10 years (and counting).

Make connections, and collaborate. Sustainability in procurement feels like conducting an orchestra — it requires cross-functional expertise. Business units have a job to get done, and there are suppliers who support these business units. Environmental health and safety, communications and corporate citizenship departments also have opinions and ideas that must be integrated.

Image of a green book with a green tree growing in the middle.

In many ways, our procurement function has been the link that enables cross-functional success and has helped these diverse groups collaborate on items of mutual interest.

Be aware of the risks. Making sustainable procurement choices can be a complex process. For example, what's the trade-off between choosing food locally? How do you green your event without negatively impacting the experience for participants? Is it appropriate to buy a carbon offset for an event?

To reduce the risk of overstating or "greenwashing" our efforts, Intel engaged with an independent third party that specializes in sustainable events to verify that events contribute to the Blue Guide.

Provide support. Although procurement doesn't plan events, this function has taken the lead in Intel's sustainable events effort by helping to standardize approaches, provide tools and deliver training to employees. This training is extended to agencies that deliver events on our company's behalf.

In fact, preferred event agencies are now required to complete web seminar training about the Blue Guide. They're also evaluated and given feedback on integrating sustainable approaches into programs through Intel's supplier report cards, which are managed by procurement.

Measure value. It's important to track the impact of integrating sustainability into procurement to ensure that it has value. While this has been the hardest part of measuring the success of our organization's event program, it's being aided by specific strategies that are helping to drive positive returns.

For example, the Blue Guide simplifies the process into basic steps for event planners. Standard templates are given to document ideas, actions and data. Lessons are shared among event teams to enable peer-to-peer learning. Event owners who engage in the program are also rewarded through employee recognition programs.

As a result, results are starting to emerge across business units. Since 2010, Intel has:

  • Avoided 10,478 metric tons of carbon dioxide
  • Saved US$200,000
  • Avoided 330,000 kilowatt hours of energy use
  • Conserved 350,000 gallons of water
  • Prevented 72 metric tons of waste.

Evaluate and refine. A key tenet of sustainability is continuous improvement, which is actively integrated into Intel's event procurement program. Supplier report cards and ongoing checkpoints with event staff have helped to identify what works and what could be improved. These conversations have led to refinements in the Blue Guide and in Intel's procurement processes.

To help event planners and agencies with successful post-event measurement, Intel procurement has provided contract language that requires event suppliers to disclose sustainability metrics within 30 days. Another solution has been to provide a one-on-one mentorship program to help event planners develop their first event sustainability plan.

Inspire forward. In Intel's experience, sustainable procurement programs might start and end with purchasing. While we acknowledge this might not be the case in other procurement programs, we hope our example inspires others to take the lead on these behaviors in their organizations to drive future innovations and change.

At Intel, for example, the purchasing function is also to provide powerful ways to inspire action outside of the organization. The Blue Guide produced measurable results; it has also led to a global campaign to inspire Intel event attendees to action.

Blue Guide principles have also proven successful when applied within other Intel functions, including our advertising group. Cosima Kolb, global strategic sourcing manager for advertising and production, says the guide was a great inspiration to prepare a similar guideline package for her department's advertising production.

"It will enable us and our agencies to look into more sustainable activities when producing our advertising campaigns," she says. "The solid foundation of [the] guide, as well as its best practices, has been of great help. One of the next steps is to find a partner to consult us even more on the sustainability aspects in advertising, as well as on measuring these to make this approach as effective as possible for everyone involved."

Within the last year, our company's work has been communicated in fun, interesting ways to participants at its events held in the U.S., Brazil, China and Indonesia. For example, the keynote set uses 1,040 square meters of textiles — enough to cover eight Olympic-size beach volleyball courts. Rather than sending these to the landfill, Intel will repurpose this material into an estimated 620 eco-bags!

Through its same patient, collaborative and consistent efforts that generated the Blue Guide, Intel looks forward to reporting success against these targets into the future.

Photo of Regan S. Rhodes

Regan S. Rhodes is the strategic global commodity manager for events and retail and is an active member of the environmental social governance team at Intel Corporation in Phoenix. To contact this author, please send an email to

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