11/24/2008 02:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

HuffPost Green Experts' Panel Ask Dell About Sustainability

Corporate America is one of the most important fronts in the struggle to turn the country green. If businesses buy into sustainable efforts, the reasoning goes, they'll clean up their own acts, their customers' acts, and they'll support fledgling green industry.

Oh, and they'll save money.

One well-known leader among sustainable businesses is Dell, which has been in the headlines for taking large, forward-thinking steps toward being a greener business. We at the Huffington Post are lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the sharpest minds on the green scene, so we asked a few of them to come together and ask questions of Dell's Director of Sustainable Business Tod Arbogast.

Below in bold are our questions and those of our experts, Laurie David, Graham Hill, Simran Sethi and Andrew Winston. In regular type are Tod's answers.


Can you tell us a little about getting Dell motivated to be more eco-friendly? Share with our readers the top three methods of motivating a big corporation like Dell to look at its bottom line in a new way.

Probably the most important first step is to tie the "eco-motivation" to business fundamentals. When we provide a customer a more energy-efficient product we're certainly having a positive environmental impact and we're helping a customer save operating costs by helping cut their electricity demand. I'd say the second is it's critical to have the support and leadership of senior executives. Michael Dell's leadership is part of what is driving Dell's environmental efforts forward. We report progress to Michael regularly and we're always challenged to go further. And finally, engagement of stakeholders, employees and customers in the effort is key. Once you can demonstrate why making a company like Dell more environmentally sound is important to each of these audiences, you gain important allies that will help move you forward.

And on a completely different scale, can you tell us five things an average personal computer user can do to decrease his or her carbon footprint?


1. First, if you are purchasing new, or the next time you purchase a new computer, take a look at factors like energy-efficiency and energy-ratings. Customer demand for more energy-efficient products will continue to push industry to do more.

2. Second, for computers you already own, turn off a screen saver if you use one, those waste energy, and turn-on the power management features of your computer - you can set it to go into a low power sleep mode if you are away for more than a few minutes - it's no different than saving energy by turning off a light.

3. Next, if you are using a CRT monitor, consider upgrading to an LCD monitor. They use much less energy and, because they are smaller and lighter, require less energy to ship. If you use a laptop, look for one with an LED display. LEDs use even less energy than LCD displays and contain no mercury.

4. Next consider all other peripherals tied to your computer - turn off your printer, scanner, external drives, etc. when not in use. For printers, most can be set to automatically print double sided pages.

5. Finally, whenever you are ready for your next computer, donate or recycle the old one. A computer too old for the applications you need may have years of life for a worthy non-profit, and recycling recovers parts and raw materials for much less environmental impact than sourcing new raw materials.

LAURIE DAVID, global warming activist

One of the big bonuses I have heard from CEO's whose company has gone green is the level of engagement and excitement from the employees. Is this the case at Dell?

Absolutely, our employees are key to helping lead our environmental programs and we will continue to do more to ensure their continued engagement. A good example is our internal idea-sharing site called EmployeeStorm that lets employees across the globe suggest and vote on ways to improve our day-to-day operations, including ideas on minimizing our environmental impact. Employees are also forming green teams at our facilities and tackling everything from energy-efficiency projects to advocating removal of Styrofoam cups from cafeterias, to organizing recycling drives to educating their peers on environmental choices.

How have you engaged employees in going carbon neutral? For instance, have you given them incentives to drive hybrids? What are you doing in your offices to promote awareness? Is the staff engaged in going carbon neutral individually and as a company?

We have, but there is more we can do. Energy-efficiency improvements in our facilities is a key part of our carbon neutral strategy and not only have many employees been engaged in those projects, we are also educating employees to help out (for example, simple reminders about turning off lights and monitors can help engage employees in energy-savings efforts). Efficiency improvements are currently saving the company more than $3 million annually, which resonates with employees. One of our power saving efforts, that automatically powers down computers left on the Dell network at night, was spearheaded by a group of employees. We do have commuter programs in a number of places encouraging ride sharing. We are actively looking at work/life flexibility programs that would cut employee commuter miles and we'll continue to educate employees on how they can also save energy at home.

GRAHAM HILL, founder of Treehugger

It seems like Dell should have a program to get its suppliers to be greener and cut carbon as well -- IKEA is a good example of a company not afraid to dictate efficiency (and green) to suppliers. Any plans for that?

We're taking a series of steps to drive environmental efforts throughout our global supply chain. Last year, we became the first in our industry to join the Carbon Disclosure Project's Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration to help suppliers access standard methodologies to report CO2 emissions. We also began requiring primary suppliers to report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data during quarterly business reviews. If a supplier doesn't identify and report specific emissions data, its overall score will likely be reduced. A Dell supplier's volume of business can be affected by the scores earned on reviews.

In addition, we also require our suppliers to be ISO 14001 registered -- this puts in place practices of continual improvement in business operations including areas that have environmental impacts. The Electronic Industry Code of Conduct, which Dell helped found, also has requirements for environmental practices.

We absolutely are not afraid to put stringent environmental requirements on our suppliers, but we also view suppliers as partners in these efforts. We're sharing with suppliers what we've learned from all of our environmental initiatives.

Many environmental enhancements have a direct correlation to cost reduction which further motivates Dell and our supply chain to improve. As an example, for many suppliers, the largest GHG impact is associated with the electricity consumed within their operations and the subsequent indirect CO2e impact. Given global increases in the costs of energy, it is good business to reduce energy consumption - lowering operating costs and environmental impact.

Tree-planting is generally not considered optimum for carbon offsetting. Why did Dell choose Plant a Tree for Me, and does it plan to recommend a UN-approved carbon offset plan in addition?

"Plant a Tree for Me" is designed for customers who want to take a simple step to improve the environment when using their computer and allows them to offset the carbon impact of the production of electricity used to power their computers over an average three-year lifespan. When we considered the program, we recognized that we have an opportunity to empower customers who visit our Web site to take action.

Our non-profit partners, The Conservation Fund and, are widely recognized as leaders in their field and adhere to the most rigorous carbon offset standards. We remit 100 percent of the funds generated through the program and work closely with our partners to ensure that the tree-planting projects are independently audited and certified. Our partners focus on key elements such as: ensuring the planting of native species; planting in permanently protected areas that have long term management plans; additionality, registration and third party verification. We support multiple voluntary market verification programs including the Voluntary Carbon Standard, Voluntary Gold Standard, Green-e and Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard to name a few. As an example, customers participating in Europe are contributing to an effort that has been certified under the Kyoto Protocols Joint Implementation program.

We believe in the significance of reforestation and deforestation avoidance as critical elements of fighting climate change. Lord Stern, the British economist and academic, has written, "The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector," he further notes, "Emissions from deforestation are very significant, they are estimated to represent more than 18 percent of global emissions." The World Bank has also estimated that 20 percent of global GHG emissions are caused by deforestation. In the United States alone, we lose more than two million acres of forests, farmland and natural landscapes each year to development. We believe in a portfolio approach to solving our climate change challenges. This includes partnering with our customers in a multitude of ways to minimize climate impact, from energy efficient computing to Plant a Tree for Me to recovering embedded energy through responsible recycling. Essentially, we believe in offering a holistic lifecycle approach with multiple programs, multiple benefits and multiple choices, to helping our customers meet environmental challenges.

SIMRAN SETHI, environmental activist

You say Dell is striving for carbon-neutrality and say that your Round Rock, TX headquarters are powered by 100% green energy sources. How does Dell define "green energy sources"? What types of energy are included in that mix and what percentage of energy for Dell operations worldwide is actually powered in this way?

By green energy we essentially mean renewable power sources with an emphasis on wind and solar and clean energy sources - such as landfill gas extraction and energy production. For the Round Rock headquarters program - that campus is roughly 2 million square feet of office space over six buildings with about 10,000 employees - we are using a mix of energy from a local landfill gas-to-energy plant and Texas wind power (the totals are about 60 percent wind and 40 percent landfill gas). For the company as a whole, some of our campuses are using 100 percent green energy (for example facilities in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Sweden) and some are sourcing part of their energy needs from green energy sources (for example our campus inside Austin, Texas, city limits that receives power from Austin Energy is a member of the Green Choice program). The source of the energy differs by location, but a good deal of the "green" energy we purchase in the United States comes from wind power.

Overall, today we are purchasing about 116 million KWH of green energy directly from our utility vendors, that's an increase of 870 percent since 2004 when we were purchasing 12 million KWH. Today, this represents approximately 20 percent of our total energy portfolio.

Core to our climate strategy is the focus on the purchase of and advocacy for renewable and clean energy. The ideal end-sate for Dell would be ubiquitous availability of clean and renewable energy - enabling us to power 100 percent of our operations with a non carbon source.

I laud your free take-back policy because one of the most egregious impacts of the electronics industry is e-waste. What steps is Dell taking to ensure that the items it takes back are recycled safely and fully? Where is most of this recycling done and what kind of oversight and accountability is in place?

We share your commitment that in addition to being free, computer recycling must also be managed responsibly. We have an absolute prohibition on any export of waste by our recycling partners - that is contractually required and we enforce this through third-party audits. Those are global requirements, available to anyone on our Website here. Recycling generally takes place in the country or region from which the used product was recovered (i.e. product recovered from U.S. customers is recycled in the United States, and we have regional recycling partners in the European Union for product recovered from European customers). We recognize our obligation to recover and responsibly recycle consumer goods placed in the market. We continue to challenge others in our industry to provide the same level of service to consumers around the world.

ANDREW WINSTON, green business expert

The operational changes and direct renewable power purchases (landfill gas) are impressive. Are the remaining operational offsets from direct investments in wind power projects (as opposed to buying Renewable Energy Credits)? Why did you choose to go that route (pros and cons) and how do you assess your offset options?

Our carbon neutral commitment covers the impact of Dell's facility operations and employee business air travel. For facility operations, almost all of our carbon impact is from the use of electricity (scope 2). We have a very small scope 1 impact from actions such as the use of company owned vehicles and the use of emergency back-up generators. For our scope 1 and employee business air travel, we chose to invest in a habitat and forest preservation project in Madagascar with Conservation International. We vetted this project for its additionality, impact, management and reporting. The Fandriana-Vondrozo Forest Carbon Project in Madagascar will reduce the rate of deforestation on 240,000 hectares which will prevent the emission of 10 million tons of CO2 over the next 30 years.

For our much larger scope 2 impact, we are making investments in efficiency and direct purchases of green energy as you note. Where we cannot yet purchase green energy directly from our utilities, we are investing in the development of wind energy through Renewable Energy Credits and Verified Emissions Reductions. We chose wind - power projects in the United States, India and China for these investments as these are three markets where we have both a significant employee and customer presence. The RECs and VERs projects were all Green-E certified. We focus first on efficient use of energy, second on the purchase of and advocacy for green power and finally on the investment in the development of additional green energy through RECs. In this regard, we believe that intensity is a good indicator of an organizations efficient use of energy (for Dell, that is about 7 grams of carbon per dollar of revenue - significantly more efficient than others in our industry). We also believe the percentage of green energy purchased as a percentage of total electricity purchased is a key indicator of action and results (at nearly 20 percent, Dell leads our nearest competitors). Finally achieving carbon neutrality through the investment in additional renewable energy via RECs demonstrates leadership.

The carbon-neutrality targets are focused on facilities/operations and employee travel. How much of Dell's lifecycle energy footprint does this represent, including manufacturing (upstream) and product energy use (downstream)?

Just to be clear, the carbon neutral commitment for our facilities would also include Dell manufacturing (not just office operations). But to your point, we know that supplier operations and customer product use have bigger carbon impacts than that of Dell's operations, in fact Dell's operational impact is relatively small. We're addressing our total lifecycle impact in a few ways. With suppliers, we instituted a requirement that they report emissions as part of their business review process last year. The quarterly business reviews cover a host of requirements from quality to pricing and future business is awarded based on scores - so there is great incentive for suppliers to cooperate. We were also the first in the industry to join Carbon Disclosure Project's Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration which helped develop tools to make it easier for suppliers to report. We envision a long term goal of working with our suppliers on emissions reductions. We believe reporting is an important first step and certainly are sharing best practices as we make Dell operations carbon neutral.

For customer product use we believe the key lies in providing our customers products that are delivering the most performance per watt, so that they can meet their computing needs but consume less power. We're also helping customers design services and data centers to be as efficient as possible. We're making great strides, our latest generation of servers are up to 25 percent more energy efficient but delivering more than 100 percent increase in performance. And our latest desktops for business users are about 80 percent more energy efficient than previous generations.

Your point is a good one; a focus on carbon requires organizations to drive substantive action across all impact areas. For Dell this involves driving innovation in product energy-efficiency, partnering with our supply chain to drive improvement and practicing what we preach in our own operations.