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Dell to Revamp GHG Measurement; No Longer Carbon-Neutral

Dell’s changing business model is forcing the company to craft a new way of measuring its carbon footprint, the company notes in its 2011 corporate responsibility report, which shows that the computer manufacturer is no longer carbon neutral.

Dell says that server hosting is becoming an important part of its business, bringing with it strong environmental benefits. “A single Dell data center can diminish customers’ need for hundreds of individual, smaller and less efficient server ‘closets,’” the report says.

But, Dell notes in the report, this activity raises the company’s energy consumption. Overall electricity consumption rose in FY11, and scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions were also up significantly (see chart), though GHG emissions intensity fell.

Because of these changes to its business, Dell says, “The way we measure our carbon footprint and set reduction targets will change.” Dell says its operational footprint is relatively small compared to the overall end-to-end footprint of its products and services, and it plans to expand its GHG measurement to include some of the largest supply chain and customer impacts on scope 3 emissions.

Dell says it will be sharing new environmental plans and objectives throughout the coming year.

The report reveals that Dell is no longer carbon neutral, a status that it achieved in 2008. Dell’s green electricity consumption fell in FY11, and the corporate responsibility report notes that Dell has decided to end its purchase of Renewable Energy Credits for the purpose of achieving carbon neutral operations. But, it says, “We will continue to purchase as much electricity from clean and renewable sources of energy as practical.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jeffrey Ball noted of emissions measured by Dell, at the time it went carbon neutral, “In fact, that’s only a small fraction of all the emissions associated with Dell. The footprint doesn’t include the oil used by Dell’s suppliers to make its computer parts, the diesel and jet fuel used to ship those computers around the world, or the coal-fired electricity used to run them.”

But, Ball said of the company’s system of offsets, “Dell’s program is widely praised by environmental groups as one of the most comprehensive attempts by a major corporation to combat climate change.”

The company says its Round Rock, Texas, headquarters have been using 100 percent green electricity since late 2007, and it buys enough green power to provide about 41 percent of the electricity used by its two largest Austin data centers. In addition, Dell operations in Oklahoma, the U.K., Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia buy 80-100 percent green power, and its Australian offices increased their green power purchases by five times in FY11, compared to FY10.

The company says that last year it also continued energy efficiency improvements, such as lighting and cooling system enhancements, data center cooling, IT equipment upgrades, installation of solar water heating systems, space consolidations and telework programs.

Dell said its sustainability focus is concentrated on efficiently managing its own operations, developing innovative energy efficient products and solutions for customers, shipping products with sustainable packaging materials, and providing world class recycling options that makes it easy for its customers to be green.

Dell says its operations produce no wastewater and little to no hazardous waste. Operational nonhazardous waste fell significantly, with the company recycling or reusing 95.7 percent of waste in FY11, en route to a goal of 99 percent by FY12.

Water use, measured at about 85 percent of Dell’s building space, rose by 5.6 percent in FY11, to 1.97 million cubic meters, which the company says was due to its acquisition of Perot Systems’ facilities in late 2009. But the company’s water use per square meter of building space remained consistent with the previous year.

Dell says that over the past few years, it has implemented projects to reduce water consumption by changing landscaping, reusing treated wastewater effluent and replacing fixtures with more efficient equipment.

In FY11, Dell laptops and desktops were designed to use 25 percent less energy than they did in 2008. The company said that its customers have saved nearly $6 billion through Energy Smart since 2005, avoiding more than 55 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Dell also reduced the size of the boxes laptops and desktops are shipped in by more than 11 percent, surpassing a goal of 10 percent. Increasingly it is shipping laptops and smartphones in bamboo packaging, and it began a pilot to ship Dell PowerEdge servers in packaging made from mushrooms, a dense material that Dell says is also compostable.

In FY11 the company extended free global recycling to 78 countries and facilitated equipment drop-off at more than 3,700 Goodwill and Staples locations in the U.S. and Canada. During the year Dell also recycled more than 150 million pounds of end-of-life computer equipment, a 16 percent increase over the previous year, putting the company on target to recycle 1 billion pounds by 2014.

And in October, Dell was named Newsweek’s 2010 Greenest Company in America.

The company says its key environmental challenges are:

  • Proliferation of various standards, regulations and measures around environmental issues that make sustainability confusing to the customer and unnecessarily costly to businesses
  • Inconsistency in recycling infrastructures that can limit its ability to optimize curbside recyclability
  • Adapting its sustainability programs, baselines and goals as a result of mergers and acquisitions and the evolution of Dell’s business model, business priorities and core sustainability objectives
  • The need to keep cost-effectively innovating to improve ecoperformance of its products
  • Lack of a simple, intuitive, consistent definition of sustainability for every stakeholder

The company says some of the next steps in its environmental program include:

  • Expanding leadership in sustainable packaging, driving change in material up-cycling and linking recycling with sourcing
  • Leveraging customer feedback to lead interest deeper into its product and solution development
  • Broadening measurements to better quantify and manage its upstream (supply chain) and downstream (customer and beyond) environmental impacts
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