How Innovative Startup Navitas Semiconductor Uses O-LCA to Support Marketplace Messaging on Impact Reduction
No matter the size of your company, achieving your sustainability goals requires awareness of where impacts occur in order to identify specific operational and supply chain areas where measurable impact reduction is possible.
Uncovering this type of knowledge is the primary goal of organizational life cycle assessment (O-LCA), which applies life-cycle analysis principles on an organizational macro scale. In the first installment of this series on EarthShift Global clients who’ve recently conducted O-LCAs, we examined how the WD-40 Company used the methodology to deepen its understanding of its flagship WD-40® Multi-Use Product, and explore options for reducing its impact.
In this Part 2, we look at Navitas Semiconductor (Navitas), which is using O-LCA to support the introduction of innovative technology that could have wide reaching benefits for energy consumption of rechargeable electronics.
Proving the Value of Power-Saving Innovation
Billions of plug-in chargers are made annually for phones, computers, and other devices, and device charging represents a significant portion of global electricity use. Navitas Semiconductor has developed chips for those power supplies that offer not only improved charging performance and lower cost, but also significantly greater efficiency — advantages that come from fabricating them on wide-bandgap semiconductor materials like gallium nitride (GaN) rather than traditional silicon.
To support its outreach to electronics companies around the world, Navitas initially conducted a product-level LCA on its components, “to quantify the benefits and make sure there weren’t any gotchas that we’d overlooked,” explains Anthony Schiro, the company’s VP of quality and sustainability. “Then, because ours is just one component in the charger, we also did an LCA of the full system-level benefits.”
Being able to speak to both component- and system-level considerations is important for the Navitas business model, which includes provision of in-depth engineering support for customers as they design the new chips into their power supplies.
“As we learned more,” says Schiro, “we thought we should look at all our company impacts. We had both an internal focus, making sure the whole company was aligned, and an external focus on communicating to the world and our customers all the benefits of GaN.”
That led to an O-LCA project that wrapped up early in 2022; since then the company has been sharing the findings (including an estimated 30% reduction in lifetime energy use for products using Navitas-based chargers) with a range of customers including many well-known names in the electronics world.
“All the big companies have their own targets for improvement, and we use the O-LCA data to show them both a performance benefit and a sustainability benefit,” explains Schiro. “We want to do good for the planet, and the way we make the most impact is helping customers achieve their impact-reduction goals.”
The information is also being used upstream. As a design house, Navitas outsources manufacturing to major chipmaking companies, many of them in Asia. Schiro notes that within that semiconductor ecosystem there’s growing awareness of and interest in best practices around sustainability, with chip foundries and packaging houses seeking to reduce energy and water usage. “We want to find ways to push them to do more as we get bigger, and also show them that the products they’re making for us can help them with their goals,” he says.
Schiro adds, “one of the things I like about LCA, and which I think is appealing in that community, is that it’s a quantitative, defined process. It lets you look scientifically at what you’re doing, what’s positive and negative, and not get stuck on buzzwords.”
Advice for Your O-LCA
Like the WD-40 Company, Navitas conducted its O-LCA as part of a larger strategic initiatives, which helped set clear goals and expectations for the analysis.
Both organizations also found employees were enthusiastic about participating. Navitas’s O-LCA effort was largely handled by a small handful of managers, but the findings and recommendations for internal sustainability improvements are being avidly taken up by volunteer teams at each global site. “We’re a bunch of engineers, and it appealed to us,” says Schiro. “We showed the quantitative analysis, the benefits of our product, and said here’s what we want to do globally, and got a good response. We got people involved just by inviting them.”
Obtaining upstream data was a challenge identified by both Navitas and WD-40 Company. As EarthShift Global’s Lise Laurin has noted, there’s a particular dearth of life cycle data for the complex and multinational semiconductor supply chain.
“Much of the available data is either old or doesn't represent all the geographies or technologies,” concurs Schiro. “There are some nice nuggets that can be found in various places, that needed to be woven together to make them useful.” He adds that he was impressed by the processes used to fill the inevitable gaps.
Schiro says he and his Navitas colleagues found the process “pretty straightforward; the main thing we saw was that it does get easier as more people get involved. In our case there was a tradeoff, though, as we wanted to get the first data in hand before rolling the initiative out broadly. As Navitas grows globally, we have already seen how involving our various sites has improved the quality and quantity of data for the O-LCA analysis."
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