Reporter with Silicon Hills News

David Lear, executive director of corporate sustainability at Dell, courtesy photo

David Lear, executive director of corporate sustainability at Dell, courtesy photo

It turns out going green is good for Dell and not just in a feel good way.

The company not only has greatly reduced its impact on the environment through recycling and cutting carbon emissions in the last decade, but it has generated profits in the process.

Actor and Filmmaker Adrian Grenier, who serves as Dell’s first Social Good Advocate, said he only agreed to do the job if Dell pledged to do real work with measurable results.

“But also, to be realistic, we’re all business people, as an entrepreneur myself, we don’t want to be Pollyanna about it,” Grenier said. “We want to make sure that we are making money as well as doing good.”

Adrian Grenier, photo courtesy of Dell

Adrian Grenier, photo courtesy of Dell

Grenier spoke Wednesday morning with Dell Chief Marketing Officer Karen Quintos during the keynote presentation at Dell World 2015 at the Austin Convention Center.

Dell has taken 30 million plus pounds of packaging out of the waste stream and also saved more than $50 million in the process, Grenier said.

“To me that’s a win-win not only for the bottom line but also creating human value as well,” he said.

In fact, Dell has a list of 21 goals focused on improvements for the environment, communities and people by 2020, said David Lear, executive director of corporate sustainability at Dell. He sat down for an interview with Silicon Hills News during Dell World to talk about the company’s focus on reducing its impact on the environment.

Last Monday, Lear was at the White House in Washington, D.C. to sign the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Dell and 80 other companies, including its acquisition target: EMC Corp., have signed the pledge to take action on climate change.

The companies have agreed to reduce emissions by as much as 50 percent, reduce water usage by as much as 80 percent, achieve zero waste-to-landfill, purchase 100 percent renewable energy and pursue zero net deforestation in supply chains.

Those initiatives were already underway at Dell, Lear said. In fact, Dell’s headquarters in Round Rock operates on 100 percent renewable energy. And throughout its company, Dell plans to meet 50 percent of its energy needs through alternative energy sources by 2020. Dell has already hit the 40 percent mark, Lear said.

But Dell wasn’t always as focused on being green as it is now.

In 2003, environmental groups targeted Dell at its annual shareholder meeting in Austin and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for its lack of recycling efforts. But instead of ignoring their complaints, Dell invited them to its company headquarters to talk about how it could change, Lear said. Michael Dell had meetings with the environmental activists and took many of their suggestions to heart and changed the company’s business practices as a result. Today, even as a private company, Michael Dell still regularly meets with environmental groups and activists to learn about ways to improve operations, Lear said.

Dell is now the world’s largest technology recycler with programs in 78 countries. The company is more than 71 percent of the way to its goal of recovering two billion pounds of used electronics by 2020.

“I think one of the biggest things we did is instead of shying away from some of the interest groups we invited them in,” Lear said. “That’s really been our theme for a long time.”

The environmental groups are generally a bellwether of the future, Lear said.

“So much of what these interest groups have to say is how we plan our future,” he said.

For example, last year, Dell introduced closed loop recycling. It partnered with Underwriters Lab to get certification on 34 products globally made from recycled plastics. So far, the company has collected 4.2 million pounds of plastics that it has recycled back into new Dell products.

A lot of recycling innovation has come from the way Dell packages its computers, Lear said. The company also partners with startup companies to find innovative solutions to packaging problems.

“Dell is willing to try new things and experiment a little bit to test out a new product,” Lear said. “We partner with small entrepreneurs to prove out there is an industry there for them.”

Dell is now doing a pilot program with Newlight Technologies’ AirCarbon to make plastic bags for its notebook computers made from carbon-captured methane gas-based plastics. The startup essentially turns air pollution into plastics.

“Their waste material could become a primary material for a lot of our plastics,” Lear said.

Wheat straw, which is treated, combined with recycled fibers and turned into boxes for Dell, courtesy photo.

Wheat straw, which is treated, combined with recycled fibers and turned into boxes for Dell, courtesy photo.

Dell is also using wheat straw in many of its cardboard boxes for notebooks being shipped from China. The wheat straw is waste material resulting from the harvesting of wheat. In the past, Chinese farmers burned the straw to get rid of it. Now, instead, Dell picks it up and takes it to a plant for processing. The waste is broken down, treated and mixed with other recycled fibers to create new cardboard boxes. The practice not only relies on recycled materials, but also saves tons of carbon emissions from being emitted into China’s air annually from burning the wheat straw, Lear said.

Wheat straw packaging has reduced our environmental impact, created jobs and it’s cheaper than cardboard, Lear said. Dell has also replaced the foam inserts in its packages with bamboo and mushroom-based products.

Dell demonstrates that social good and sustainability can be profitable practices for any business, Lear said.

“Dell has a passion for making a difference and leaving a legacy,” Lear said.

Editor’s note: Dell has provided sponsorship of Silicon Hills News.