Environmental policies & practices @ IBM Research Europe – Zurich


ISO 14001

In 1997, IBM became the world’s first major multinational to have earned a single worldwide registration to the ISO 14001 EMS. Since then, IBM has expanded its global ISO 14001 registration to include its chemicals-using research locations as well as its non-manufacturing locations.

The ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS) standard is a voluntary international standard that identifies the elements of an EMS needed for an organization to manage its impact on the environment in an effective manner.

Here at IBM Research Europe – Zurich, activities and services including facilities, maintenance, environmental and chemical management have been awarded with the ISO14001 standard. The site is audited every two years by an independent ISO 14001 registrar.


Green buildings

The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center, a joint collaboration with ETH Zurich, continues IBM’s tradition of environmental awareness.

On the roof of the underground garage is a special layer of stones, sand and earth as well as judiciously placed woodpiles, all of which provide a habitat for a variety of native plants, insects and several endangered species of lizards.

Minergie®. The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center is the newest addition to the leafy campus of the Zurich Laboratory. It not only provides a state-of-the-art environment for cutting-edge research, it also serves as a showcase of sustainable building standards.

Continuing IBM’s tradition of environmental awareness, the new facility has achieved the stringent minimum-energy requirements of the Swiss Minergie® quality label, a certification standard for sustainable and energy-efficient buildings that is rapidly being adopted for new and refurbished buildings throughout Switzerland and other European countries.

Eco-Friendliness and Efficiency Showcased at IBM Research Europe – Zurich. The Minergie® certification standard ensures optimal use of renewable energy while enhancing the quality of the working environment and decreasing the building’s environmental impact. The measures implemented in the Nanotechnology Center include

  • photovoltaic solar panels for an eco-friendly power system,
  • a geothermal heat exchange facility,
  • triple-glazed heat recovery windows,
  • a cutting-edge HVAC system.

Dedicated to sustainability

“Sustainability and the environmentally-conscious use of natural resources played a central role in the planning and building of the new Nanotech Center,” says Roland Germann, manager of the Nanotechnology Center Operations group.

“The new building features the use of energy-optimized construction and insulation materials,” adds construction project manager Roger Schneider.

For example, cool air circulates between the triple-glazed windows on the interior and an additional pane of specially insulated glass to the outside, which wicks hot air off the building façade. In addition, an automatic shading system deflects excessive sunlight to prevent any unwanted heating of the building interior during the summer months. On the rooftop, solar panels produce an electrical power output of 38 kW, and a geothermal heat exchange system provides heating when needed.

“It’s an integral part of the eco-friendly concept,” Schneider explains. “A total of 16 geothermal probes extending some 250 yards into the earth deposit waste heat into the ground and retrieve it on demand to heat the buildings. It’s really quite impressive.” Another measure taken to achieve high sustainability standards was the use of recycled cement and ecologically nonhazardous building materials.

“Of course we had to make compromises in some cases,” says Germann. “After all, a research environment poses certain constraints in terms of security and safety.” For example, a special PVC flooring material with particular chemical-resistant properties was required in the cleanroom facility, although more eco-friendly materials are generally used in Minergie®-certified buildings.

Apart from such tradeoffs, the overall construction easily passed the rigorous certification process to become a handsome new showcase of IBM’s long-term commitment to sustainability, energy efficiency and environmental awareness.


Water & air

Sometimes the simplest solution can also make an important contribution.

For example, to reduce the use of energy in the labs of IBM Research Europe – Zurich, during non-working hours the circulation of air is shifted down to the minimum level and during working hours it is accelerated.

Reusing water is a well-known way to save energy and also used at the Zurich Lab. The cooling system of the buildings are run in a closed loop and reuses the same water over and over again, which saves 70 – 80% of energy and costs.

To find another example of the friendly use of water, one doesn’t need to look any further than the roof. The roof of each building at the Zurich Lab is constructed to retain rain water, which provides a unique habitat for roof vegetation. The runoff is gathered in a huge tank to fill the Zurich Lab’s beloved fish pond during dry summer periods.

Nature park

“Nature park” campus

The park-like grounds surrounding the IBM Research Europe – Zurich labs and offices are more than just randomly planted vegetation.

Our Building Operations team has taken great care to plan and grow specific local vegetation without using fertilizers, a method that allows an impressive population of rare plants such as wild orchids to grow all over the campus.

Moreover, the landscape team has strict regulations when it comes to cutting lawns, as high grass provides habitats for various kinds of small animals and insects. The lawns are cut only at specific times and as seldom as possible. Thanks to all these environmental activities, the Zurich Laboratory earned the Natur & Wirtschaft certificate in 2002 and was recertified in 2019.

Green computing

Green computing

Linux on BlueGene.

When IBM Research Europe – Zurich needed more computing power and storage, it sought a “green” solution. It turns out the team didn’t have to look any further than IBM’s own Blue Gene®/P and Blue Gene/L systems running Linux®. Thanks to these supercomputers, the computational performance has been dramatically increased from 1.3 to 33 teraflops, while reducing energy consumption.

green IBMers

Green IBMers

Bike to Work.

For years IBM Research Europe – Zurich has been participating in the local Bike to Work program that takes place annually throughout June. During this time, IBM Research employees use their bikes, instead of cars, to get to work. The Bike to Work drive requires that at least half of a participating employee’s daily commute be done by bike and can be combined with public transportation.

This activity was introduced by the Zurich Lab’s own Well-being, Safety & Environmental Issues department, and is supported by many bike-enthusiastic employees.

The ability to keep improving the environmental standards of the Zurich Lab is not only traced back to a company-wide environmental management system, but mostly to the employees themselves. As long as there is a will among our employees to improve our environmental policies and to make our planet greener, IBM Research Europe – Zurich will find ways to keep improving its environmental management. A green Lab saves energy costs and provides positive energy to all living things, including us, around the campus. That’s why we constantly strive to look for further energy-saving improvements at the Zurich Laboratory.