Texan by Nature is excited to recognize Dell Technologies (Dell) as a 2021 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. Dell’s commitment to conservation, their projects/programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
Honoree Industry and Size: Technology – Enterprise
Dell Technologies helps organizations and individuals build their digital future and transform how they work, live and play. The company provides customers with the industry’s broadest and most innovative technology and services portfolio for the data era.
What is Dell Technologies’ conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
“Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Dell Technologies. We feel a deep responsibility to innovate for our customers and the planet, using all the levers at our disposal to make technology work for the world we need.”
– Page Motes, Head of Sustainability
To help customers meet their sustainability goals, we are rethinking and redesigning our offerings to maximize recyclability and minimize carbon footprints. We are driving ethical and environmentally sustainable practices across our supply chain and throughout the industry. We are also partnering with our customers, suppliers, and communities to create projects that use less, enable more, and give back to the world that has given us so much.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of Dell Technologies’ business strategy?
The world stands at a crossroads, with global forces putting more pressure on the planet and its inhabitants. There is increasing urgency in addressing issues from climate change and resource depletion to urbanization, poverty, and the breakdown of ecosystems. The challenge of the day is to move from goals and promises to progress and action, and we believe technology has a critical role to play in driving a sustainable future.
Technology is uniquely positioned to help the planet step back from the planetary boundaries we are pushing up against. While the technology sector must own its fair share of global emissions and other environmental impacts, the ability of key digital technologies to bring the environment back to balance can have an even greater impact. Technologies like cloud, 5G wireless, artificial intelligence, robotics, edge computing, AR/VR, and blockchain all have roles to play in helping broader society achieve its sustainability aims.
Our customers (and their customers, employees, and stakeholders) recognize this and expect their technology providers to be partners – to own their environmental footprint, draw on innovation, and find shared solutions. They want partners who will help protect them from risks while accelerating change for the better, and they expect those partners to think proactively about sustainability rather than waiting for the world to change.
What are Dell Technologies’ short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
Dell Technologies created its Progress Made Real plan in 2019. The plan lays out several goals for 2030 and beyond that are aimed at addressing the material issues related to our company, our customers, our products, and our services. The goals are broken into three critical areas:
E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream (each year, approximately 53.6 million tons of e-waste is created, equaling about 16 pounds per person) and we recognize our role in addressing the problem. Our most ambitious goal is that, by 2030, we will take back one product for every product our customers receive while making at least half of our products and all of our packaging from either recycled or renewable materials. This is coupled with our commitment to drive a circular economy – one where waste is designed out of the system.
The global conversation has shifted from reducing emissions to finding ways to reach net zero by 2050 or earlier. Dell is proud to have science-based targets across our value chain, with a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across all scopes by 2050. We also recognize that the best of such net zero goals do not simply look at balancing continued carbon emissions with offset activities, but rather prioritize dramatic reductions as much as possible before engaging in effective and verifiable carbon removal strategies.
As part of our broader net zero commitment, we have set interim goals that will get us to 2050. By 2030, our goal is to source 75% of our electricity from renewables, and 100% by 2040. We will also partner with our direct material suppliers to meet science-based emissions reductions of 60% per unit revenue by 2030. Additionally, we are articulating a new product-focused goal around climate after achieving a 76.7% reduction in energy intensity across our product portfolio (2011-2020).
Underpinning all of these environmental goals are our efforts to champion the people who build our products by protecting their human rights, safeguarding their workplaces, and providing the training and tools to be future-ready and better their own lives.
Who at Dell Technologies is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
J.J. Davis serves as Dell’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Page Motes serves as Dell’s Global Head of Sustainability, but sustainability is embedded throughout Dell Technologies.
This includes two formal governance bodies responsible for oversight of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues across Dell: our ESG Steering Committee and ESG Interlock Team. Each has its own roles and responsibilities, and mirrors and aligns with how we manage risk in the organization. These governance bodies are composed of members from various teams across Dell who create an integrated perspective and approach to ESG. They include representatives from these business units and corporate functions: sustainability, diversity and inclusion, human resources, giving and social innovation, ethics and privacy, supply chain, corporate affairs, government affairs, internal audit, legal, risk management, investor relations, accounting, and security. Together, these governance bodies help us develop, manage, and measure our ESG strategy and performance.
The global sustainability council exists under this group and includes sub-groups dedicated to sustainable design, renewable energy, circularity, climate change, and other topics.
Dell has also developed a robust employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to sustainability called Planet. The Planet ERG is structured around 72 local chapters, with more than 24,000 team members committed to driving a culture of sustainability at Dell and in their communities. Planet ERG, led by Glen Robson (CTO for the Client Group at Dell), conducts numerous trainings and activities throughout the year. Historically the organization has focused on beautification and environmental improvement activities like tree plantings, lake and beach clean-ups, sea turtle nest protection efforts, recycling drives and other engagements in local communities. With COVID, they have successfully pivoted to more digital/virtual opportunities including organizing training events and guest speakers, as well as virtual volunteering. One Planet-wide virtual volunteer effort with Citizens for the Great Barrier Reef brought more than 10,000 hours of citizen-scientist support in reviewing images of coral to help train the algorithms to better support scientists.
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does Dell Technologies lead and participate in?
Dell Technologies has a longstanding commitment to driving the circular economy:
We’ve provided recycling services to customers since 1996 and recovered well over 2 billion pounds of e-waste. Our partnership with Goodwill Industries has given consumers a free option for recycling any brand of computer – working or not – at more than 2,000 participating locations around the U.S. since 2003, helping recover materials and put people to work. In 2020, we saw a 144% increase in the number of customers using our mail-back shipping option. This service allowed businesses and consumers to responsibly recycle their used technology from their homes and offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recycling is only one part of the equation. To make recycling truly work, you need to use recycled content materials. Dell first used recycled-content plastics in our 2008 OptiPlex desktop computers. Since then, we have greatly expanded our use of recycled, reclaimed and renewable materials in both products and packaging.
Using materials recovered from e-waste has been a particular focus. We were the first to introduce such closed-loop plastics, beginning with a single desktop/all-in-one model in 2017. We now use millions of closed-loop materials across more than 125 different product models. Aluminum is one of the top-five materials used in our products and we are working to close the loop there, too. In partnership with Reconext and Seagate, we are using the aluminum from old Dell enterprise drives in the base plate of new hard drives. The initial pilot created more than 24,000 drives.
We’ve also expanded the use of reclaimed waste as well as renewable materials. For the Latitude 7300 Anniversary edition a few years ago, we experimented with more than 200 different materials, eventually creating a non-woven carbon fiber fabric sourced from scrap carbon fiber recovered from aerospace industry waste. The material made the device more durable while also reducing its weight. And with the Latitude 5000 series and Precision 3560 laptops, we created the first PCs made with bioplastics. Using a by-product from the paper-making process, the lids for these devices contained 21% bioplastic content and when blended with recycled carbon fiber and other plastics, we made the lid from 71% recycled or renewable materials. That combination saves enough water during manufacturing to fill 226 Olympic-sized swimming pools and prevents the same amount of emissions as not driving 24.2 million miles.
We continue to drive innovations in our industry and introduced the first computer to feature bioplastics. Bioplastic first appeared in the lids of our 2021 Latitude 5000 series and Precision 3560/3561. Along with additional post-consumer recycled plastics and the reclaimed carbon fiber, the lids of these laptops are now 71% (by weight) made from recycled and renewable content. The bioplastic is made from tall oil — a byproduct of the papermaking process that we can use as a substitute for petroleum; we turn it into a recyclable polycarbonate, the same type used in many other applications.
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will Dell Technologies play in that progress?
There is a climate crisis and business as usual is not the solution. The science suggests that reaching net zero emissions by 2050 will help us stave off the worst effects. Entities of all shapes and sizes are making bold commitments in a “race to zero.”
We need to convert commitments into results – and not let anything stand in our way. Some of the solutions for reducing emissions and capturing carbon from the air are going to heavily rely on technology.
The technology industry accounts for about 2% of all global emissions. We recognize that Dell Technologies must take responsibility for our own footprint, and that needs to include our full value chain, from our suppliers to our operations to the use of our products. We also recognize that technology has a special role to play in addressing “the other 98%” of global emissions. As the world looks for ways to decarbonize the economy, technology will need to take center stage.
As an example, climate control systems in smart buildings can efficiently manage power use while machine learning can help the system adapt to optimized usage patterns and reduce energy. The same approach can help streamline manufacturing, predict maintenance needs, and improve logistics. While technology will play an important role across the economy in addressing the climate crisis, we believe the areas where it can have the biggest impact include the energy sector, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and in buildings.
How does Dell Technologies quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
Sustainability is embedded in everything we do at Dell and creates value in many ways. Perhaps the most obvious is the return on natural resources. Focusing our efforts on recycling and the use (and reuse) of recycled and renewable materials helps take pressure off other resources, and helps us grow the circular economy. In addition to helping grow the industries that support the circular economy, we see potential for cost savings as we scale our use of materials and design to make recycling easier.
Our investments in sustainability also pay off with our customers. More than 95% of the requests for proposals that we receive ask questions about sustainability – and the type of questions asked have grown more complex. It’s no longer a matter of answering whether we have a recycling program or ENERGY STAR products (we do). Instead, our customers are looking much deeper at how we build our products or act as a corporate citizen. They want to know who they are doing business with, and a conservative estimate shows that hundreds of millions of dollars in business is tied to sustainability.
Sustainability also matters to our potential employees. Our sustainability successes are frequently cited as a reason for choosing Dell. As employees, we see that sustainability remains a priority – more than 15% of all Dell team members are a part of the Planet employee resource group.
What is the one lesson that Dell Technologies has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
It starts with design. One of the most important lessons that Dell Technologies has learned over the past few years is that you need to look at the whole system in which you participate.
For example, we want our products to be part of a circular economy – which takes pressure off resources and reduces carbon emissions. At a superficial level, that means recycling and using recycled-content materials, but the circular economy is more than “Recycling 2.0.” Our designers spend time working with recyclers to better understand how to make disassembly easier. Easier disassembly makes it easier and faster to recycle – which helps the recyclers process more volume and make more money. We continue to look at ways to make recycling more efficient in each new generation of products while at the same time finding ways to pull more recycled content into our products.
In our use of bioplastics, we understood that replacing petroleum-based plastics with bioplastics could help reduce our product carbon footprints. But we did not want to trade out for a material that would become a dead end. So rather than working with a proprietary type of plastic, we worked with our suppliers to use the tall oil (a byproduct of the paper-making process) to create a recyclable polycarbonate. The end result is a plastic that acts (and recycles) the same way as a similar polycarbonate made with petroleum-based oils, but has a reduced footprint. It was important for us to not trade one problem for another.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for Dell Technologies?
Dell Technologies was born in Austin. The story began with a belief and a passion: that everybody should have easy access to the best technology anywhere in the world. That was in 1984 in Michael Dell’s University of Texas dorm room (#2713). Today, Dell Technologies is instrumental in changing the digital landscape the world over with more than 150,000 team members.
There is a creative, entrepreneurial spirit in Austin that attracts top talent and drives innovation. That same spirit helps Dell thrive. We invest in the community from big sponsorships to thousands of volunteer hours with local nonprofits to even a Monarch butterfly waystation on campus. No matter how much the company grows and changes, Central Texas remains our home.
Learn more about Dell Technologies’ conservation and sustainability efforts here.
More than 15% of all Dell team members are a part of Dell’s Planet employee resource group that is structured around 72 local chapters, with 24,000+ team members committed to driving a culture of sustainability at Dell and in their communities.
For example, for Dell’s Latitude 7300 Anniversary edition they experimented with more than 200 different materials, eventually creating a non-woven carbon fiber fabric sourced from scrap carbon fiber recovered from aerospace industry waste. The combination of materials used saves enough water during manufacturing to fill 226 Olympic-sized swimming pools and prevents the same amount of emissions as not driving 24.2 million miles.
Since 1996 Dell has recovered more than 2 billion pounds of e-waste. In 2020, Dell saw a 144% increase in the number of customers using their mail-back shipping option, allowing businesses and consumers to responsibly recycle their used technology from their homes and offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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