Dell has been charging ahead on the environmental front recently with a whole string of announcements, averaging two a month, about initiatives for it and its products to use less energy, cause less waste and increase recyclability.
Obviously Dell has needed to sharpen up its act in the light of poor results and founder Michael Dell taking over the CEO reins from the now-departed Kevin Rollins. But this committment to being the greenest technology company on the planet was forged by Kevin Rollins and Michael Dell together, and is no trendy green response to bump up sales as a short-term kicker.
Techworld talked with Tod Arbogast, Dell's sustainability director and asked him questions about Dell's various green initiatives.
TW: How do you compare Dell with other technology companies? What are the benchmarks you use?
We look at leadership in each one of four lifecycle elements. One is product design with, for example, a precautionary approach to chemicals and use. A second is looking at the environmental impact of our own facilities and operations. We focus on waste elimination and aim to eliminate 99 percent of our waste with no landfill use and recycling measures. Today we're at a 93 percent waste elimination level.
We've pledged to decrease the carbon intensity of our operations - Dell's carbon output is about 400,000 tonnes annually. We're aiming to reduce the intensity of that by 15 percent by 2012.
The third lifecycle element concerns customer's acquisition, use and ownership of Dell products. We aim to provide the most energy-efficient products in the industry. For example, our new Optiplex can save up to 70 percent of power use compared to the previous generation. There are mechanisms to extend the life of products and offset the carbon emissions, such as our 'Plant A Tree' programme.
The fourth leadership element is end of life product disposal. We're the only one in our industry to commit to this anywhere in the world and any time.
Overall we think we lead today. We want to lead tomorrow and in the future.
A Dell spokesperson subsequently said: "Carbon intensity measures emissions to revenue rather than just a total emissions number. Dell believes that the intensity comparison gives a more accurate picture of the climate impact of a corporate operation -- for example, Dell's carbon intensity is the lowest in the industry. The pledge Dell has made is to reduce the intensity by 15 percent by 2012 versus reducing emissions levels by 15 percent over today's. We intend to continue to lead the industry with the lowest carbon intensity going forward. As an efficient growth company whose carbon emissions are highly dependent on facility electricity use, Dell will require renewable energy to be more widely available in order to achieve sustained absolute reductions. We will however continue to pursue this goal."
The carbon footprint of many technology companies can be found on the Carbon Disclosure Project website where, for example, IBM lists itself as emitting 2.451 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2006.
As Dell says it's not a valid comparison to simply rank technology companies by their absolute carbon footprint levels, as the footprint size will tend to vary with company size. The carbon intensity concept measures the relative carbon emissions of technology companies by dividing their annual revenues by their carbon footprint and coming up with a kind of carbon emissions efficiency index.
TW: Customers can donate $1 for laptops and $3 for servers to Dell's 'Plant A Tree' programme. Is this donation voluntary or compulsory? Will trees planted in this programme be left unharvested?
It's completely voluntary. It's a mechanism to offset carbon emissions and it is also an educational vehicle to drive up awareness of carbon offsetting. The trees are planted in a Hungarian forest and managed in a sustainable way.
The forest managers receive money from the CarbonFund.org, a non-profit intermediary which receives all the Plant A Tree donations from Dell in Europe. The offset arithmetic calculates the average working lifetime carbon emissions for a Dell product and then purchases sufficient tree carbon-absorbing capacity to take that amount of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
For example, a Dell Latitude notebook generates 0.45 tonnes of carbon in its average 3-year working life. A single tree in the forest absorbs 1.33 tonnes of carbon in its 70-year life. Thus the customer donation effectively pays for 23.7 years of that tree's life in which time the notebook's amount of 0.45 tonnes of carbon dioxide are sequestered inside the tree. It's a pretty delayed offset.
Interestingly, 3PAR purchases carbon offsets for its customers and no voluntary donation is needed. However the money is spent buying offsets from the profit-making Terrapass corporation and therefore less of it actually goes towards planting trees.
TW: What is Dell's carbon footprint and what is Dell's policy towards that footprint?
Our policy towards our own carbon footprint has three priorities. The first one is to reduce it. An example is the power management project on 50,000 computers used inside Dell which resulted in savings of 13 million kwatt/hours of electricity. Secondly we're focusing on investing in renewable energy where it is available. In Austin, Texas, 12 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources.
Thirdly we look to optimise Dell with respect to the broader footprint, placing factories closer to customers for example, and so saving on travel-related emissions.
Tod Arbogast mentioned just a snapshot of Dell's pro-environment activities. More information can be found from the Dell Earth website. Also you can download Dell's 2006 Sustainability Report for a thorough look at the company's environmental credentials.