Dell’s ‘carbon neutrality’ claim

Good news that Dell has claimed to be carbon neutral five months ahead of schedule. So why do I feel so uncomfortable about the announcement? Probably because I know that it …

18th August 2008 at 4:22 pm

Good news that Dell has claimed to be carbon neutral five months ahead of schedule. So why do I feel so uncomfortable about the announcement? Probably because I know that it is probably untrue, except in whatever limited sense Dell has chosen it to be so. But also because, for it to be true, it is bound to involve compromises.

Anyone making such a claim is just begging, like Aunt Sally, to be knocked down. And, as an ex-journalist, that is a strong instinct. On the other hand, for a company, any company, to come right out and say that it’s committed to an environmentally beneficial agenda has to be a good thing.

So let’s start by taking our hats off to Michael Dell for saying “we’re driving green into every aspect of our global business.” At least employees, partners and customers know the commitment comes from the top. But, to be honest, IBM and HP could have said exactly the same thing. Maybe they did. Both companies regularly report on their environmental achievements.

I don’t recall anyone actually claiming carbon neutrality though, so let’s look at the Dell claim. It says that its HQ is powered by 100 percent green energy. This is part of the 116 million green kWh that it buys in the US each year, which represents about one third of its domestic energy use. So it is putting money into the preservation of tropical forestland in Madagascar to make up the imbalance. Its neutrality is being bought with these offsets, so the ‘five months early’ achievement looks more like newsworthy financial scheduling than anything else.

Dell is also making additional investments in wind power in the USA, China and India, by the way.

From a customer perspective, the announcements show that Dell’s heart appears to be in the right place. What’s really important to customers, though, is “what’s in it for me?”

Well, if you care about the environment, you’ll be pleased to hear that Dell (along with Acer, HP, IBM and Vodafone) is a member of the Carbon Disclosure Project which demands that the vendors’ primary suppliers report their CO2 emissions each quarter.

If you care about saving money, then Dell can provide power-optimised desktop and server systems. It’s not always easy to know what to do when you have existing equipment, because it takes a long while to recover the cost of the replacement in terms of energy savings. And, of course, the new device comes with an embedded carbon cost, as does the device you’re getting rid of. Find a good home for the latter and you can feel better about the former. And, if you can’t find a good home, Dell will help. See its Pure Earth website for more information.

Other makers offer environmentally friendly computers. Other companies have slashed their environmental impact and bought offsets too. But none, to my knowledge, has dared to claim neutrality. It was a smart, albeit brave, move by Dell. But it seems to me that the company was restricting its claim to power neutrality in its U.S. operations and this is only one part of the whole environmental story.


David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World.

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  1. Angela@Dell says:

    Really enjoyed reading your post, but wanted to help clarify a few points on our carbon-neutral commitment. Above all, this is a global effort – the vast majority of our emissions are “Scope 2” (under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol) – electricity use – and we’re addressing them by driving efficiencies wherever possible, purchasing green energy through utility partners and investing in renewable energy certificates and verified emissions reductions. Our “Scope 1” emissions are covered through the project with Conservation International. We are also covering employee air travel (part of our “Scope 3” emissions) with the CI project.

    In addition, we are driving energy efficiency internally in all our sites, not just in the U.S. (saving more than $3 million annually and avoiding nearly 20,000 tons of CO2 through facilities improvements and a global power-management initiative).

    You also reference the Carbon Disclosure Project –a fantastic organisation – so you probably already know that we have one of the lowest carbon intensities (CO2 emissions/revenue) in our industry. As more companies publicly disclose CO2 emissions data and commit to being carbon neutral, we’ll be able to benchmark and compare CO2 data and progress. A real win for our industry and the planet as a whole.

    Finally, most of what we do to drive green innovation is a direct result of conversation and collaboration with millions of customers across the globe. When you have a moment, I’d encourage you to visit Direct2Dell Environment, IdeaStorm or to share an idea and join the conversation. As you’ll see, our work is only getting started.

  2. Hi Angela. Thanks for the comments.

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