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WSJ Slams Dell Over Carbon Neutral Claim

The Wall Street Journal has slammed Dell over the announcement it made back in August about reaching its carbon neutral goal.

The problem, according to WSJ, is that Dell only counts the “emissions produced by its boilers and company-owned cars, its buildings’ electricity use, and its employees’ business air travel.”

It doesn’t count all the emissions associated with Dell: “All the emissions produced by its suppliers and consumers each amount to about 10 times the footprint Dell has defined for itself. That means the company is only neutralizing about 5% of the greenhouse gases that go into the making and use of its products,” the article states.

The carbon neutral trend started around 2003. But after Fiji Water’s “carbon negative” goal was criticized for pushing the bounds of credibility, many companies scaled back such announcements. But that’s not stopping all companies – Vattenfall announced a carbon neutral goal in October and, in June, Marks & Spencer set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2012.

In one of the boldest carbon neutral announcements made, Swiss Re, in April, bought and decommissioned emission reduction certificates equivalent to 230,000 tons of CO2 emissions, which the company claimed offset its entire emissions since October 2003. With this measure, Swiss Re said it had been carbon neutral since October 2003.

Google and Yahoo have also announced carbon neutral plans.

The WSJ article also calls out Dell for mostly purchasing renewable energy credits in order to make the carbon neutral claim and raises questions about the legitimacy of RECs. Dell hired ICF International to review some of its planned REC purchases and confirm their legitimacy, but neither ICF nor Dell would release the report to WSJ. (In April, ICF partnered with Merrill Lynch and launched “Green & Gold,” which the companies describe as a “full-service climate change solution with a strong focus on sustainability.”)

With so many companies announcing carbon neutral goals based primarily on purchasing carbon offsets, David Douglas, chief sustainability officer at Sun Microsystems, wondered how long it would be before a company announced it was going “double carbon neutral.”

What’s needed, according to Pankaj Bhatia, a policy expert at the World Resources Institute, is a carbon neutral standard.

Bill Burtis, spokesman for Clean Air-Cool Planet, says Dell’s carbon neutral announcement could lead consumers to believe “that buying a Dell computer means they’re not contributing to climate change at all.”

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2 thoughts on “WSJ Slams Dell Over Carbon Neutral Claim

  1. Come on guys. As someone who knows Environmental Leader, Dell and the WSJ fairly well, I believe there is a more balanced tone here. Carbon neutrality is a great directional goal and an even better “tagline,” but all of us know that it’s not even close to being perfect in today’s application.

    The WSJ didn’t “slam” Dell – I read the article and it was fairly balanced. Today, you can work hard to reduce emissions, but anyone claiming neutrality is buying credits or finding ways to offset. I’m not “slamming,” I’m just telling the truth.

    Dell worked hard and spent $ to reach their claim of carbon neutrality. The WSJ pointed out what that really means and shed some light on the appropriate skeptisim that comes with carbon neutrality claims.

    We are all in this boat together so let’s figure out what’s next. I think you’ll see claims of carbon negative before you see claims of double carbon neutrality. 🙂

  2. There is little way any company can become carbon neutral without purchasing credits. There should be no issue with people purchasing credits to go carbon neutral, after all it is a voluntary iniative and if the credit structure is correct it will actually be investment in technologies which reduce GHG emissions.

    I also fundamentally disagree with the criticism leveled at companies like Dell who don’t include their supply chains. Firstly, the scope of work required to do this would probably be 10 times the amount than measuring, reducing and offsetting their own emissions, and quite frankly, why should Dell be required to take responsibility for someone elses emissions. The model should be market driven, with Dell committed to supplier partnerships with other carbon neutral companies. That way the onus is on the supply chain to actually undertake a project which is of environmental benefit.

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