Dell and the Complexity of Sustainability

Claims and Skepticism

Dell received a lot of attention for its claim last summer that it had become carbon neutral. The company claimed it was “saving more than $3 million annually and avoiding nearly 20,000 tons of CO2 through facilities improvements and a global power-management initiative.”

Dell’s claim of having achieved carbon neutrality became the focal point of a recent skeptical article (subscription required) in the Wall Street Journal. The article pointed out that the carbon emissions Dell claims to have neutralized don’t include those of its suppliers or “the diesel and jet fuel used to ship those computers around the world, or the coal-fired electricity used to run them.” This is a valid point. But Dell says that it’s method of measuring its carbon footprint is a start, and the most practical one at that, since many of its suppliers are not currently able to account for their own carbon footprint.

The article also looks skeptically at the purchase of emission reductions and renewable energy certificates, citing examples of some renewable energy projects that probably would have proceeded even without Dell’s funds. This undercuts Dell’s claims of having reduced emissions by funding those non-incremental projects.

The company’s energy and greenhouse gas reduction programs are impressively broad-based according to its 2008 corporate responsibility report. Energy-related initiatives include programs to

  • Reduce energy consumption in Dell’s facilities
  • Purchase green energy from utilities
  • Redesign distribution networks to make them more efficient
  • Purchase verified emission reductions and renewable energy certificates

Skepticism is fine, but overall I am highly impressed by the depth and breadth of what Dell is trying to do. Their sustainability efforts go far beyond energy, also including recycling for consumer and corporate clients, elimination of toxic chemicals in manufacturing, offering consulting services to clients to help them reduce their own electricity use, and a broad consumer and business outreach program,

Dozens of Partners

In pursuit of its goal of becoming “the greenest technology company on the planet” (and being known as such), Dell works with an astonishingly broad array of industry bodies, NGOs and government entities, as well as some private firms, in the design and operation of their sustainability initiatives. Here is the list of entities Dell works with on sustainability, gleaned from its most recent sustainability report:




80 Plus

Industry Association

Electric utility-funded incentive program to integrate more energy-efficient power supplies into desktop computers and servers

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

Industry Association

International technical society organized to advance the arts and sciences of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration

Business Applications Performance Corporation (BAPCo)

Industry Association

Nonprofit consortium that develops and distributes a set of objective performance benchmarks based on popular computer applications and industry-standard operating systems

Business for Social Responsibility


Works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration

Carbon Disclosure Project


Collects and reports data on carbon emissions from over 3000 companies globally. Dell Participated in its Supply chain Leadership Collaboration (SCLC) pilot to help companies better understand the climate impacts of their supply chains



National network of investors, environmental organizations and other public interest groups working with companies and investors to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change

Clean Production Action


Mission is to design and deliver strategic solutions for green chemicals, sustainable materials and environmentally preferable products

Climate Group, The


Forum for business and government leaders to tackle climate change

Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI)

Industry Association

An association of companies promoting improved energy efficiency in power supplies and enabling power management in computing environments

Conservation Fund


A non-profit that partners with other entities to advance conservation and develoment goals

Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF)

Industry Association

Leading an IT industry effort to ensure that all energy-related and power consumption components in a system are interoperable, can communicate with management systems and can support virtualization

ECMA International

Industry Association

International standards organization that is leading the development ofinternational IT standards, including an effort focused on an energy benchmark tool for the ENERGY STAR 5.0 standard

Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition

Industry Association

A group of companies working together to create a comprehensive set of tools and methods that support credible implementation of the Code of Conduct throughout the Electronics and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) supply chain

Energy Conservation Center Japan (ECCJ)

Industry Association

helps to promote energy efficiency, reduce global warming and encourage sustainable development

Environmental Defense Fund


Evaluates environmental problems and works to create and advocate solutions that win lasting political, economic and social support because they are nonpartisan, cost-efficient and fair. Dell uses the organization’s paper calculator to quantify the environmental effects of reducing paper use

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Govt Agency

Dell participate’s the these EPA programs: Climate Leaders, Green Power Partnership, Energy Star and Smartway

Environmental Resources Management (ERM)

Private Company

Environmental Resources Management (ERM) is a provider of environmental, health and safety, risk and social consulting services. ERM manages the audit of Dell’s global recycling program.

Environmental Synergy, Inc.

Private Company

Providing afforestation and carbon quantification services to corporate clients as a means to offset carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and promote sustainable forestry

Forest Ethics


Mission is to protect endangered forests and wild places, wildlife, and human wellbeing. They work to catalyze environmental leadership among industry, governments and communities by running campaigns that leverage public dialogue and pressure to achieve their goals.

Forest Stewardship Council


Devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests.

Green Grid, The

Industry Association

An association of IT professionals that seeks to lower the overall consumption of power in data centers worldwide

Investor Environmental Health Network


A collaborative partnership of investment managers, advised by nongovernmental organizations, concerned about the financial and public health risks associated with corporate toxic chemicals policies

ISO 14001

Standards Body

The International Standards Organization is a global standards body setting standards for business, government and society. The 14000-series standards concern the operation of environmental manageement systems

Joint Industry Guide (JIG)

Industry Association

A guideline for declaring the composition of electronics products. Issued jointly by EICTA (Europe), JGPSSI (Japan), EIA (USA), JEDEC (USA)

Minimum Efficiency Performance Standard (MEPS)

Govt Agency

The governments of Australia and New Zealand developed the Minimum Efficiency Performance Standard to improve the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. This standard reflects the basic tenets of the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program



Helps the disabled and disadvantaged across the UK gain greater access to information technology by providing affordable refurbished computers to charities, community groups and individuals

Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC)

Industry Association

Formed to establish, maintain and endorse a standardized set of relevant benchmarks for the newest generation of high-performance computers

StEP (Solving the E-Waste Problem)


An initiative of various UN organizations with the overall aim to solve the e-waste problem.

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Govt Agency

A bureau of the Department of the Interior with conservation goals

US Green Building Council


Fosters the development of green buildings, maintains the LEED ratings system

US Green Electronics Council (USEGC)


Partners with environmental organizations, government agencies, manufacturers and other interested stakeholders to improve the environmental and social performance of electronic products

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)


A CEO-led, global association of some 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development. Developed GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard with WRI

World Resources Institute (WRI)


An environmental think tank seeking practical ways to protect the earth and improve people’s lives. Developed GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard with WBCSD

I take the size of this list as an indicator of the nascent state of the ecosystem of information, advisory and advocacy entities, even though a number of organizations Dell lists have been around for years. This, together with some slight controversy over Dell’s carbon neutrality claims, suggests to me that corporations are lacking standard sustainability metrics and a streamlined set of authoritative voices to guide them in their initiatives. But I think the progress shown by Dell and other companies is impressive.

What do you think?



Filed under sustainability

3 responses to “Dell and the Complexity of Sustainability

  1. Pingback: The green IT message remains relevant for today and tomorrow : Blade Watch

  2. Pingback: The Vector of Progress « Green Research by David Schatsky

  3. Pingback: Soda Machines Return $1 Million: Facts & Figures from a Green Conference « Green Research

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