Dell Named No. 1 Green Company

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Oliver Campbell, Senior Packaging Manager at Dell, speaks during Fortune Brainstorm GREEN 2011. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Last year Newsweek named Dell the No. 1 Green Company in America with a 100 percent ranking, but that didn’t mean Dell was going to sit back and ride the wave of good press and consumer goodwill. It went back to the drawing board to find innovated and interesting ways to continue its environmental stewardship initiatives.

The Three Cs

Dell’s stewardship starts with their Three Cs concept: Cube, Content and Curb. Cube refers to making the packaging smaller. Content has to do with using sustainable or recycled materials as much as possible for packaging. Curb means making package disposal as easy as throwing it into the recycling bin. “This is a real big one for people,” says Oliver Campbell, Senior Packaging Manager at Dell. “That’s really where we developed the idea around curbside recyclability. So let’s dispose, recycle or compost the materials locally.”

Dell has a long history of engaging their customers, asking what they want and delivering on the suggestions, especially when it comes to packaging.

“We have to take a global perspective in terms of our packaging, and it’s clear when we talk with customers; what I hear is a request for more sustainable packaging. It’s a pure and simple message,” Campbell says.

Campbell says that customers very clearly don’t want polystyrene, and compostable packaging is a good alternative, even though a small percentage of American have access to industrial composting facilities that are needed to compost the materials.

Delivering on that suggestion, Dell announced earlier this month that it will be experimenting with a compostable, mushroom-based foam packaging from Ecovative Design.

Based solely on the announcement, many other companies are taking notice and inquiring about the foam. “I’ve spoken with people in the cosmetics industry, consumer goods industry, food industry, sports industry…we’ll spend the time with them. We feel that it’s in everyone’s interest,” Campbell says.

Dell already employs widespread use of bamboo packaging, which is renewable, local, biodegradable and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, to protect devices in shipping and transport. Two-thirds of Dell’s portable devices will ship in bamboo by the end of this year.

Evocative mushroom packaging debut in April. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Shouldering the Responsibility

As manufacturers of consumer electronics goods, Dell knows firsthand the ravaging effects that e-waste can have on the planet and on human health.

Not only has Dell initiated one of the few wide-ranging free take-back programs, but it has also imparted a ban on exporting e-waste to developing countries.

“I think that it gets back to relationships with people, who you’re working with in the field,” says Bob Kaufman, spokesperson for Dell. “How can we influence our suppliers, our partners, to do the right thing, to adhere to certain standards that have been outlined either by government bodies or non-profit associations that are leaders in this area? And then it’s a matter of educating and making sure that everything that can be done in the area of recycling is done.”

In many ways, Dell goes above and beyond what many manufacturers do.

In 2010 manufacturers in Texas, where Dell is based, collected 24 million pounds of electronics for recycling. Much of the burden of collection and recycling falls squarely on Dell’s shoulders.

“There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” Campbell says. “Yeah, we’re shouldering more than maybe what’s ‘fair’- that’s subjective -but I think Dell is committed to being a leader in this space.“

Kaufman echoes this sentiment. “We think that there’s certainly opportunity for others in the consumer electronics industry to shoulder more responsibility,” he says. “We’re still happy to lead in this area, because we think it’s critically important to our commitment to sustainability and our customers, but you need to find the right balance.”

2012 and Beyond

Sustainability and product stewardship run deep at Dell.

“When you do good, you feel good and you want to be a part of it.” Kaufman says. “Green breeds being greener.”

And being greener continues to be Dell’s focus.

It’s already thundered past most of its 2008-set goals of eliminating 20 million pounds of packaging by 2012 by shrinking packaging volume by 10 percent; increasing to 40 percent, the amount of recycled content in packaging; and increasing to 75 percent, the amount of material in packaging to be curbside recyclable.

Campbell says Dell will continue to focus on those goals, but looking forward, “we’re thinking more about supply chain and relationships as you overlay lifecycle on it.”

Dell is also working to develop guiding metrics in terms of improving packaging even more and to reduce box size as much as possible.

“In true Dell fashion, we’re going to be moving ahead,” says Kaufman.

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