What do carbon neutrality and competitive rowing have in common?
At first glance, not much. One involves reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions through aggressive energy-saving, purchasing and offsetting initiatives, the other athletes racing against one another on a river, lake or ocean.
But look deeper. Any business that commits to carbon neutrality relies on its employees and executive leadership to drive success. Likewise, the boat that ultimately wins the race requires the hard-fought effort and winning mindset of everyone on the team.
Today’s generation of environmental leaders are driven by a desire to band together and win. By all accounts, the timing couldn’t be better. A study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that greenhouse-gas carbon dioxide rose 18 percent in the United States between 1990 and 2004. Without substantive action, the International Energy Agency estimates that global energy demand will grow 53 percent by 2030.
Fortunately, a new mindset is emerging, the result of an unprecedented sense of urgency to achieve a low-carbon future. A mindset by which companies and governments set goals, share best practices and advocate more sources of clean power; a mindset that increases productivity while lowering emissions, and is a strategy employees and partners can rally around. That mindset is carbon neutrality.
Consider the example of Dell. Last year, we announced plans to become the first computer company to neutralize the carbon impact of our operations, an initiative led by our company’s CEO Michael Dell in collaboration with thousands of employees. From power management, to retrofitting heating and air conditioning units, to sourcing ‘green’ energy throughout our facilities, there’s a new way of thinking permeating the halls: “we’re going to be the first in our industry to be carbon neutral and help save the planet. It’s good for our business, our customers and shared Earth.”
We first took an inventory of our total greenhouse gas emissions to drive greater efficiencies, and set out to implement strategies to reduce and eliminate remaining emissions. As a result, we are able to aggressively drive energy-efficiency across our organization, maximize purchases of renewable power and, as a last resort, responsibly offset what we can’t eliminate. A few years ago these types of activities were green experiments. Today they are rapidly becoming the minimum expectations for any global company and its suppliers, and customers and shareholders want more done.
Ask any environmentally-responsible business what they’re doing to ‘go green’ and you’re likely to hear about similar steps being taken to use energy more efficiently, reduce emissions, minimize waste and encourage recycling. This is commendable and represents the level to which industry is going to achieve results for the planet. But what if every company also committed to carbon neutrality? Imagine the possibilities.
Above all, the world would be on a fast-track to a low-carbon future. This year, Dell will save $1.8 million and avoid 11,000 tons of CO2 emissions through a global power-management initiative, one of several key elements of our carbon-neutrality commitment. Imagine if every organization, regardless of size or industry, integrated power-management and green energy into its operations. While this alone won’t solve climate change or halt the depletion of limited energy sources, the integration of low-carbon technologies and processes will lead to unprecedented progress.
Second, we would enable new efficiencies and innovations. Information technology has – and will continue – to transform the global economy by accelerating the transfer of knowledge and ideas and communication. Today, 200,000 Chinese “netizens” (Internet citizen) will come online for the first time in their lives and 175,000 new blogs will be created worldwide. In the short term, this also means more energy consumption and CO2 output, especially in emerging markets. Wide-scale adoption of carbon neutrality would lead to more innovation and efficient operations, through greater adoption of energy-efficient processes, green technologies, disclosure of CO2 emissions and unprecedented end-user savings. Case in point is Google, which like Dell is investing in ‘green’ sources of energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet its carbon- neutral commitment, as well as working with other leading IT vendors to encourage the development of energy-efficient technologies.
Third, we would lead a fresh demand for ‘green’ energy. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, if wind power reaches 20 percent of the nation’s electricity mix, 7.6 cumulative gigatons of CO2 will be avoided by 2030, saving 825 million metric tons in 2030 and every year thereafter. More businesses banding together to integrate green into their operations and supply chains will send a signal to markets and governments that clean energy is both an environmental and business imperative.
The race to a low-carbon economy undoubtedly depends on the willingness of global corporations to embrace a competitive, yet common mindset. What’s good for business is good for the environment only if everyone is driving energy efficiencies, reducing direct emissions, integrating ‘green’ power and responsibly offsetting what can’t be eliminated directly. Not only will business be a lot greener but also efficient and innovative like never before.
Tod Arbogast is director of Sustainable Business at Dell Inc.